Whittling…

To use Occam's razor one must first tell the beard from the throat

AFfC + ADwD remix

with 5 comments

For those who don’t yet know, the two acronyms in the title refer to A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, the two latest installments in the realpolitik fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.  This is the one and the same series of novels that gave rise to the successful HBO TV-Series that just debuted this April, Game of Thrones.  Now, someone recommended me the series quite a while ago, 2004-5 I think, but I didn’t pick it up until this year, after my friends (shout out to Vinko Lizardsbane) back in Zagreb mentioned it again.  Got through the first book and bit into the second back in February, then dropped it — I found it too focused on court intrigue, a fantasy soap opera, and I wasn’t in the mood.  The TV series brought fixed that, I knew what to expect so I concentrated on its good points, and I couldn’t put it down.  And a few weeks of fevered reading later I am caught up.

So, if you’re not familiar with the series, this post won’t make sense.  If you haven’t read the last book, there will be spoilers, so you probably want to come back to it later.  Anyways I’ll start spoiler-free and indicate when the spoilers start.

Coming off of the reading high is a good time for thought experiments and what ifs.  This one came up to me while I was taking a walk last evening, and has to do with the structural mess & plot delays over the last two books.  It took longer, much longer for GRRM to write these two books than the last three combined, and many fans argue that they’re just not as well written as the first three.  There is a lot of atmosphere and landscape, a lot of inner dialogue, but fewer plot twists and less action compared to the first three books.  Don’t get me wrong, a big part of the charm of the series is in the sense immersion coming from the atmosphere and the inner thoughts of the characters.  The reason the earlier books work so well, though, is that this immersion delivers you raw into the middle of unrelenting, intricate, surprising and often brutal activity.

The last two books, not so much.  The problem is in part structural.  AFfC was released after a long wait, growing unwieldy, and GRRM and his editors made the decision to split the book by character and location.  This made for a more self-contained book, with the downside that three of the strongest characters (AFfC spoiler: Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion) were left out.  Now as one review mentioned, this is like Star Trek without Spock, and I agree with many fans that AFfC is the weakest of the series.  Not to say it was bad — it makes sense in its own way, a melancholy tone of postwar reckoning in late autumn.

Then came ADwD, which is a better and a more substantial book.  What I find extremely annoying about it, though, is that there’s a lot of buildup, but most plot lines stop just as things start getting interesting, or resolve offstage and we’re left guessing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the first three books are nothing short of extraordinary and set a standard that’s certainly not easy to maintain. This is still a very impressive installment. But when a series in any medium (TV show, novels, movies) starts exhibiting a pattern of: coasting until almost 2/3 into the book/film/season, then speeding up somewhat, then breaking off just as things heat up, this is usually the sign that the enterprise is starting to get tired and run out of steam.

(An aside. The fact that the author has a path plotted out of how the series will reach resolution is often brought up as an argument that he has control of the narrative and that this is a non-issue.  Not necessarily.  It’s not unusual for an author to have an overarching vision for a larger work, but lose her/his way after the first, often the most pessimistic and unredeeming parts are written.  It happens to the best — Gogol’s Dead Souls was supposedly the first in a trilogy that was to start in mud and end in redemption, but Gogol destroyed the second book and never wrote the third.  I guess he got his characters so compellingly deep into the mud that he just couldn’t pull them out 😆   For what it’s worth, however, I do mean this as a constructive criticism.  I do believe GRRM is committed to finishing the series, and as far as I’m concerned he can take all the time he bloody likes and even give up if it pleases him.  I’ll be happy when/if the books come out, I’ve got better things to worry about of in the meantime, and people breathing up his neck to finish should stick to TV, movies and computer games.  Or, preferably, get a life.)

In light of the above issues with AFfC and ADwD, I got to thinking about a shuffling exercise.  After climactic events of the ASoS, most people are happy leaving AFfC slower, with more ambience than action.  However, AFfC is a bit of a rump at only 46 chapters, while the other books count between 70 and 82.  This means that there is room for up to 36 extra chapters to pad AFfC with material from ADwD.  The exercise consists, then, of moving up as much filler as possible from ADwD to AFfC, thereby resulting in AFfC+, a more chronologically accurate novel that also includes most characters.  This would resolve the “Star Trek without Spock” issue and give ADwD room to grow with existing and future chapters from TWoW.  The result would be ADwD+, with some breathing room so the dragons can actually dance.

Spoilers ahead.

Frustrating Plot Lines in ADwD

These are the plot lines in ADwD I found more or less issue with.  I say “or less” because the list is exhaustive; some of these work out better than others.  Many could IMO improve if they were partially or entirely moved to AFfC (Tyrion, Davos).  Some could work better if they stayed in ADwD but had other, more plot-relevant chapters following them (Asha, Theon, Barristan, Victarion).  Surely, one could do without some POVs (most of Quentyn) or shorten and recap in another (Jon/Samwell), but I won’t go there.  I’ll stick to what I think could be gained through rearrangement only.

  • Dany + Barristan (10+4 chapters) — though Dany’s arc is significant and arguably complete, it’s marred by the neverending build up to the fight for Mereen
  • Jon + Mel (13+1 chapters) — the only really complete major story arc, ending in an effective but somewhat unsatisfactory cliffhanger
  • Tyrion (12 chapters) and Victarion (2 chapters) — they never reach Dany, their stories stop just before they do
  • Asha + Theon (3+7 chapters) — Theon completes his arc, but the big fight it all leads up to happens offscreen
  • Davos (4 chapters) — the first 3 chapters tell us what we already know from AFfC, the 4th sets a new course but never goes anywhere
  • Quentyn (4 chapters) — understandable and occasionally interesting, but kind of pointless
  • Jaime (1 chapter), Cersei (2 chapters) and Arya (2 chapters) — simple wrap-ups from AFfC

Other Plot Lines in ADwD

These are ADwD plot lines that IMO have decent resolutions, though they could still be moved around or split to fit with other stories, or for the sake of the chronology.

  • Varamyr + Bran (1+3 chapters)
  • Connington + Areo + Kevan (2+1+1 chapters)

What to Do

A tentative proposal for A Feast for Crows on steroids.  The numbers in parentheses indicate possible breakpoints, expressed as the number of chapters to move to AFfC, separated by dashes.  The breakpoint I’m (often weakly) preferring is in bold, and the total number of chapters is after the slash.  So (0-3-4-6-9/10) means that the possible breakpoints come after none, 3, 4, 6, or 9 of 10 chapters, and that I’m arguing for splitting after 4.  Chapters are in ADwD unless indicated otherwise.

First, short and relatively independent plot arcs.

Jaime (0-1/1 chapter).  Leave in ADwD. Jaime’s single chapter contains a hint to the resolution of Brienne’s AFfC predicament, which was kind of trite to begin with, and him willingly disappearing into the forest to meet someone who wants his head is IMO a better cliffhanger for AFfC. This would argue in favor of moving it back to AFfC. However, Jamie would then run ahead of the timeline, and his finish in AFfC is a good response to Cersei’s, so I’m for keeping Jaime’s chapter in ADwD.  (As a variant, Brienne’s last AFfC chapter could be brought forward to ADwD, as her encounter with Rorge and Biter is IMO a better cliffhanger than crazy Stoneheart.)

Cersei (0-2/2 chapters).  Could go either way.  For: we suspected she was too important a villain to just keep in a cell or execute, and we also knew that Qyburn was working on FrankenGreg.  Uniting the beauty and the beast is a sweet way to end the story.  It would also open up the possibility (and a possibly terrible idea) for Kevan as ADwD+ prologue.  Against: this would all run ahead of the timeline, and AFfC is already very Cersei-heavy.  Going with caution.

Arya (0-2/2 chapters).  Ditto.  For: the story arc continues smoothly, and her predicament at the end of AFfC works alright as a cliffhanger, but people didn’t take it too seriously.  Against: her timeline is reportedly ahead of others.  I’d err on the side of caution and keep her split.

Davos (3-4/4 chapters).  At the very least, the first 3 chapters need to be moved to AFfC+ before Cersei gets the report from Manderly that he’s killed.  Reading through them was alright because I like Davos, but it was also a bore as I knew things had to come to a head at some point, and pretty much in exactly this way.  Letting this happen onscreen in the previous novel is a decent cliffhanger.  The last Davos chapter starts a new story arc so better keep it in ADwD+.

Bran (0-3/3 chapters) and Varamyr (0-1/1 chapter).  Either move them all to AFfC+, or keep them in ADwD+.  Bran’s arc is complete, fits with the timeline, and feels like it won’t go anywhere for some time, so it makes sense to get it out of the way early.  Varamyr is a prologue but a great intro to Bran’s arc, with important hints for Jon.  Alternatively, the story is so independent of others that it may well stay in ADwD, and the prologue could stay the same.  Weakly prefer move.

7 new chapters in AFfC+ from short plot arcs.  Next, the Big Three characters.  What happens to them determines the rest.

Tyrion (6-7-9/12).  The most frustrating arc of all of the main ones, an unending travelogue.  Break either when Jorah captures him, when they get passage on the Stinky Steward, or after they sight slavers.  Erring on the side of caution.

Daenerys (0-3-4-6-9/10).  As with Jon (next), it makes sense to keep Dany’s arc in one piece.  However, moving it all to AFfC+ would make the book too long, and leaving it in ADwD+ would leave her behind, dominating the early chapters.  The most logical break is when it’s almost complete, after she flies flies away from the dirty fighting pit, but this comes too late.  There are several decent compromise break points, though. First, end her AFFC+ arc early, just after Qarth declares war. Second, end it one chapter later, when her options are clear: the Hizdahr marriage vs. return to Westeros vs. the butcher queen. Third, end it after she hooks up with Daario.  This is tempting, as it comes after she’s tended to flux victims (another feast for crows) and agreed to marry Hizdahr, but just before the wedding & meeting Quentyn — having a good time as her situation starts unraveling.  This still leaves her a bit too far ahead, though, so I weakly prefer the middle road.

Jon (0-3-4/13).  Jon’s arc is the hardest to split, as it’s IMO the strongest in the book and it also makes sense to keep it in one piece. It is also the longest. If split for chronology’s sake, it needs to be done relatively early to preserve the continuity of the story.  The 3rd chapter, although somewhat anticlimactic, works fine because by then Jon has established itself as a Lord Commander who can enforce his orders and stand up to Stannis.  Until this point, Jon mostly reacts.  After it, he is proactive, especially in recruiting the free folk to guard the wall, in a continuous progression to the final cliffhanger.  Alternatively, Jon’s arc can be split after his 4th chapter, when he successfully advises Stannis on his next military move.  This would start ADwD+ with Jon in charge of the Wall without Stannis, and could move Asha & Theon a little ahead as well.  Weakly prefer breaking after Jon 4, to nudge the Northern timeline a little further.  It does leave Jon a bit behind in the game, but not by much.

14 Big Ones, net subtotal 21 new chapters.  Now the stragglers, driven by the decisions about the Big Three.

Theon (0-2/7).  Another tough one (and, arguably, another Big One).  Reek/Theon’s arc is very self-contained, so it makes sense to keep it in one book.  The only logical place to split it is just after the surrender of Moat Cailin and after he meets fake Arya, foreshadowing the rest of his and her story.  The break makes sense in terms of the timeline, and if Jon 4 is also in AFfC+.  Between them, these two chapters set the Boltons and Stannis marching toward each other.

Asha (0-1/4).  The end of Asha’s first chapter is great, but it makes sense to include it in AFfC+ only if Jon 4 is in as well.  Asha/Theon make for a single converging arc, so it would also make sense to keep them in one book.  Splitting after Asha 1 doesn’t do much damage, though, as her road to Theon begins thereafter.

Quentyn (0-2/4).  Quentyn arrives to Slaver’s Bay and marches toward Mereen, to meet up with Dany late in ADwD but early in ADwD+.

Connington (0-1-2/2).  Having discovered who Young Griff thinks he is, it makes sense to follow up on his next move, and to reveal why Connington is on borrowed time.

Areo (0-1/1).  This would segue from Connington’s first chapter and round out the Dornish AFfC stories nicely.  However, it’s considerably ahead in the timeline.  Weak keep in ADwD.

Melisandre (0/1), Victarion (0/2), Barristan (0/4), Kevan (0/1).  Governed by Jon’s, Tyrion’s, Dany’s, and Connington’s timelines, respectively.

6 stragglers, net total 27 new chapters.  This would put AFfC+ at 73 chapters, on a par with ACoK and current ADwD.

AFfC+ Summary

Major plot arcs in the “big” AFfC would be:

  • Pate + Samwell + Arya + Jon (1+5+3+4 = 13 chapters): The Wall, Braavos, and Oldtown (added Jon).
  • Cersei + Brienne + Jaime (10+8+7 = 25 chapters): KL and the Riverlands (no change).
  • Tyrion + Connington (6+1 = 7 chapters): Pentos and Rhoyne (new).
  • Dany + Quentyn (4+2 = 6 chapters): Meereen (new).
  • Varamyr + Bran (1+3 = 4 chapters): Beyond the Wall (new).
  • Davos (3 chapters): The Sisters and White Harbor (new).
  • Sansa (3 chapters): The Vale (no change).
  • The Ironborn (2 Aeron + 2 Asha + 2 Victarion + 2 Theon = 8 chapters): The Kingsmoot and repercussions (no change), Ironborn defeat in the North (new).
  • The Dornish (1 Areo + 2 Arianne + 1 Arys + 2 Quentyn = 7 chapters): Myrcella’s abduction and repercussions (n0 change), Quentyn’s journey to the Slaver’s Bay (new).

This structure would advance the story in the North, at the Wall, and Beyond (14 chapters for Jon, Davos, Asha, Theon, Varamyr and Bran), setting things into motion for the fake Arya wedding and the showdown at Winterfell, and showing what’s behind events echoed elsewhere (e.g. by Sam and Cersei).  Similarly, it would move ahead the happenings in the East (13 chapters for Tyrion, Dany, Quentyn and Connington) toward the Battle of Meereen, setting Connington’s course to the Griffin’s Roost and Quentyn’s to the Windblown.

These locations would still not quite catch up with the South, but would finish much closer.  The North and East timelines would end about 10 chapters behind the ADwD Areo POV, which likely just precedes or roughly coincides with the end of AFfC.

What’s Gained

Here is what I think would be gained with respect to the problematic plot lines above.

  • Dany+Barristan, Victarion, Tyrion — room for the battle of Meereen in ADwD+ and for whatever Dany ends up doing in the Dothraki Sea
  • Quentyn — his somewhat pointless chapters are mercifully split between two books
  • Jon+Mel — room for at least an immediate followup to the Ides of Marsh in ADwD+, if necessary; if not, the Ides can happen relatively earlier in the book followed by silence, making them more ominous
  • Asha+Theon — room in ADwD+ for the battle of the snows of Winterfell
  • Davos — room to actually set off on the voyage to find Rickon
  • Samwell and Sansa — room for some followup in ADwD+

In ADwD+, the timeline in Riverlands and KL could basically stay the same, with Kevan as epilogue if the timeline allows it, although with Varamyr moved the question of the prologue is open.  Could be Quentyn, in some combination of his last 2 chapters, although this would require advancing Dany through the wedding & escape in AFfC+.  The timeline on the Wall could be untouched as well.  Importantly, though, there would be room to handle the battles in Winterfell and Meereen, and to give further hints to the destinies of many characters, including ones that barely make an appearance in ADwD (Davos, Samwell, Sansa, Brienne, Jaime).

Order of Chapters

Here are the guidelines I think could make for a decent read of AFfC and ADwD side by side.  AFfC+ would need to follow them as well.

Both books can be read in order, skipping between each other as desired as long as one makes sure to read:

  • AFfC 06 (Sam 1), optionally also AFfC 16 (Sam 2) for minimum spoilers, between ADwD 04 (Jon 1) and ADwD 08 (Jon 2)
  • AFfC 18 (Cersei 4) between ADwD 20 (Davos 3) and ADwD 21 (Reek 2/ Theon 2)
  • AFfC 20 (The Drowned Man/ Aeron 2) before ADwD 27 (The Wayward Bride/ Asha 1)
  • All of AFfC before ADwD 39 (The Watcher/ Areo)

The exception are two ADwD chapters that should be skipped until related events in AFFC catch up:

  • Postpone reading ADwD 07 (The Merchant’s Man/ Quentyn 1) and ADwD 26 (The Windblown/ Quentyn 2) until after AFfC 22 (The Queenmaker/ Arianne 1), optionally after AFfC 41 (The Princess in the Tower/ Arianne 2) for minimum spoilers

Here’s the simplest reading order that starts with AFfC, fits these criteria and the distribution of chapters above, without taking the optional suggestions.  The first four steps constitute a version of “AFfC+”.

  1. AFfC 01-05, ADwD 01-06
  2. AFfC 06 (Sam 1), ADwD 08-20 (Davos 3)
  3. AFfC 07-22 (Queenmaker), ADwD 07 (Merchant’s Man)
  4. ADwD 21 (Reek 2), 23-27 (Wayward Bride), 35 (Bran 3), AFfC 23-end
  5. ADwD 22 (Jon 5), 28-34, 36-end

Enjoy!  I know.  Now I need to get a life.

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Written by miranche

19 July 2011 at 21:00

Posted in Nerdy

5 Responses

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  1. It should really be ADwD-
    as in ADwD + AFfC –> ADwD- + AFfC+

    nerd

    1 June 2012 at 9:38

    • Indeed 😀

      miranche

      7 June 2012 at 9:32

  2. I appreciate the effort to correct the timelines, but I would have gone another way entirely and cut out about half of the PoVs and cut a chunk out of the longer PoVs and merge AFFC and ADWD into one book. Dany and Tyrion’s storylines are brutally slow and even Jon spends a lot of time waiting for the Wildings to show up. I think you could reduce those three PoVs by about five chapters apiece and not lose that much. Dorne goes because quite frankly what the hell is the point until they join a side? Brienne could possibly go without losing much. The Ironborn goes and the Kingsmoot/their divisions could be explained in a pre-AFFC PoV like Theon, Tyrion, or Dany. Davos feels like the start of a new story arc, I think you keep his final chapter and move it to TWOW. I enjoyed Sansa’s storyline but I thought there was a feeling of it being unfinished and wonder if it might have worked better in TWOW. Melisandre as a PoV is interesting, but once again, I wonder if she might have been better saved for TWOW, taking over as the PoV on the Wall for Jon.

    sedeyus

    6 June 2012 at 22:11

    • Thanks for the comment! Yes, I agree much can be gained by cutting some chapters out, but this is not what I set out to do here — as I wrote above, this post was limited to what I think could be gained through rearrangement only.

      Without getting into the details, I agree that your suggestion would work to produce a tighter single novel. My points of departure from your outline would be the Ironborn and the Dornish — much of it could go, but some (Victarion, Arianne) is pretty interesting and gives IMO a valuable new perspective. Also I’d keep most of Brienne and cut, perhaps, parts of Cersei or Jamie instead. I see why one would get bored by Brienne’s chapters but I liked them — I think there is a genuine anti-war message in her wandering the Riverlands after the fighting, and it sinks in best when the reader gets to accompany her while she encounters one damn depressing thing after another.

      Cheers!

      miranche

      6 June 2012 at 22:48

  3. […] limitan a trasladar algunas tramas de Danza a Festín para darle un poco más de chicha, como la de Miranche en Whittling; otras quitan a los libros lo que consideran paja y apartan alguna trama que puede leerse aparte a […]


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