Thursday, 30 June 2011

Paul Kearney to write a SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND novel

Paul Kearney has just signed a deal with Titan Books to write a novelization of the Spartacus: Blood and Sand TV series, entitled Morituri.

Sounds to me like the perfect combination of author and subject matter! The book will be out in March 2012.

Update: The new novel uses the Spartacus characters and is set during the events of Season 1, but the story itself is all-new.

A Song of Ice and Fire So Far Part 4: Swords and Crows

This post concludes my look at the story so far for A Song of Ice and Fire, ahead of the arrival of the fifth book.

Note, if you are watching the TV series alone this article contains spoilers of such magnitude that your eyeballs will be sucked out of their sockets and catapulted into low orbit where they will hit the International Space Station and make it explode. Do not read on unless you want the entire future outcome of the TV series spoiled for you in detail.

A Storm of Swords
The newly-allied Lannisters and Tyrells have smashed Stannis Baratheon's attempt to take the Iron Throne, destroying much of his army and navy in a huge battle on the Blackwater Rush and the surrounding shores. King Joffrey Baratheon gave thanks to his new allies and agreed to uphold the bargain brokered by Littlefinger: he set aside Sansa Stark and became betrothed to marry Margaery Tyrell instead. Curious as to what sort of man Joffrey was, Margaery's grandmother, the noted 'Queen of Thorns', interrogated Sansa closely on Joffrey's character and nature, and was not impressed by what she had heard.

At the Fist of the First Men, the gathered strength of the Night's Watch waited for word from Qhorin Halfhand and Jon Snow, but they came under attack by both wights and the Others themselves. Samwell Tarly, to his own shock, killed an Other with an obsidian blade, part of a cache found under the Fist. The Night's Watch retreated to Craster's Keep, home of the wildling Craster who was a friend of the Watch, but there some of Lord Commander Mormont's men turned on him and murdered him. Craster was also killed. Chaos erupted and the Watch scattered. Sam escaped with one of Craster's daughter-wives, Gilly, and they fled south to the Wall. News of the disasters reached Castle Black, and Maester Aemon sent out ravens to the various kings begging for aid.

The original UK cover of the one-volume Storm of Swords (and Part 1 of the two-volume edition), art by Jim Burns.

Meanwhile, Catelyn Stark had decided to unilaterally release Jaime Lannister from imprisonment in Riverrun in return for Jaime ensuring that Arya and Sansa were returned to her, banking on Brienne of Tarth to escort Jaime to King's Landing and her daughters back. However, Cat's actions angered her brother, Edmure, who sent men to recapture Jaime. Jaime and Brienne escaped, sinking one of the riverboats pursuing them, but were apprehended by the Brave Companions, sellswords who had served Lord Tywin Lannister who had gone over to the Starks. The leader of the Companions, Vargo Hoat, cut off Jaime's sword hand on a whim and made Brienne fight a bear for his amusement, though Jaime intervened and, even one-handed, killed the bear. At Harrenhal, Lord Roose Bolton made clear his displeasure at Hoat's actions. Jaime was treated most courteously by Lord Roose, who had sent a large number of troops south-east to sack Duskendale, a bold but foolish move due to the proximity of King's Landing and the large Tyrell and Lannister armies. Roose allowed Jaime and Brienne to return to King's Landing, escorted by Qyburn, a maester of dubious repute. Before departing, Jaime asked Roose to pass on his regards to Robb Stark.

Returning to Riverrun from their campaign in the Westerlands, Robb Stark and Brynden Tully expressed their displeasure to Edmure. Edmure was supposed to allow the Lannister armies to pursue Robb and fall into a trap which would have either destroyed them or left them too far west to aid King's Landing when Stannis attacked. Edmure was angry in turn, as no-one bothered to fill him on the plan. The news of Winterfell's destruction - which Ramsay Snow had blamed on Theon Greyjoy, who was now his prisoner at the Dreadfort - filled the northmen with disquiet and Robb reluctantly agreed that he needs to abandon the military campaign in the south. He must withdraw to the North, retake Winterfell and make further plans from there. Unfortunately, this meant abandoning the Riverlands to the Tyrells and Lannisters. The river lords vowed to fight on in his name. Unfortunately, Robb's plan has been complicated by an unforeseen event: after being wounded in the assault on the Crag, the stronghold of House Westerling, and hearing of the deaths of his two brothers, Robb was 'comforted' by Jeyne Westerling. Robb married her out of honour, but in doing so broke his marriage contract with the Freys. As a result, House Frey had withdrawn its troops back to the Twins. In addition, Robb was forced to execute Lord Rickard Karstark for plotting to murder Jaime Lannister whilst he was a prison, losing him the support of the Karstarks as well.

The original art of the second volume of A Storm of Swords, by Jim Burns.

Arya Stark and her friends, fleeing north from Harrenhal, ran into the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group of 'outlaw' knights and fighters led by Lord Beric Dondarrion and the red priest, Thoros of Myr, as well as containing some of Lord Eddard's household guard from Winterfell. They were sent out by Eddard Stark to arrest Gregor Clegane before the Lannister coup. Bereft of orders from Eddard and not recognising the authority of Joffrey, they had fought against the Lannister armies in the Riverlands as an independent unit, mostly concerned with protecting the smallfolk. The Brotherhood welcomed Arya into their ranks, but were reluctant to go to Riverrun and hand her over to Catelyn and Robb, not wanting to officially ally with Robb's forces. They also encountered Sandor Clegane, who had fled the Blackwater in terror. They prepared to execute Sandor for his own crimes, but he demanded trial by battle and killed Beric. Astonishingly, Thoros was able to resurrect Beric using magic, though Beric seemed more distant and withdrawn afterwards. They let Sandor go. After marching around the Riverlands a few times, Arya got tired and broke off to head to Riverrun by herself, but Sandor Clegane caught her. He decided to take her home himself and collect a reward.

At Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon was in a grim mood. The storm lords had gone over to Joffrey, leaving him with only a handful of troops and a few ships left. Any realistic chance of him claiming the Iron Throne appeared to be gone, and it was only a matter of time before the Tyrells and Lannisters assaulted Dragonstone and Storm's End directly. He debated strategy with Davos Seaworth, whom he had made his new Hand, and with the red priest Melisandre, to no avail. Davos decided to learn how to read, helped by Stannis' maester, whilst Melisandre drew some of Stannis' blood and vowed that she could curse Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy and Joffrey Baratheon to ensure their deaths.

The current UK cover for A Storm of Swords, Part 1, art by Larry Rostant.

Robb Stark's host joined with Roose Bolton's army. Robb was aghast to hear that a large number of Stark troops were killed in a futile assault on Duskendale, which Roose blamed firmly on the impudence of their commanders. Robb noted that the ironborn had taken Moat Cailin, blocking the way back into the North, and that Moat Cailin had never fallen to assault from the south. He decided to send Lady Maege Mormont and Lord Galbart Glover into the Neck to find Greywater Watch, the stronghold of Lord Howland Reed, his father's best friend, and use the Reeds' knowledge to outflank the castle. He also needed to win back the Freys, which he planned to do by offering Edmure's hand in marriage in place of his own and making an abject apology to Lord Walder. Maege and Galbart depart, and the remainder of Robb's host headed for the Twins.

Walder Frey accepted Robb's proposal and a great feast was held to celebrate the wedding. However, during the ceremony Catelyn noticed that the Bolton and Frey men had secretly armed and armoured themselves. She tried to warn Robb, but the Boltons and Freys turned on the Stark forces and butchered them, though not without sustaining some losses themselves. Roose Bolton sent Robb Stark regards from Jaime Lannister and stabbed him through the chest, killing him. Catelyn took a hostage, an idiot grandson of Walder Frey's, and trid to bargain to no avail. She killed her hostage and was killed in turn by the Frey troops.

The current UK cover art for Part 2, by Larry Rostant.

News of the 'Red Wedding' began to spread and Sandor and Arya turned away from the Twins and fled down the Trident. They found several troops loyal to Sandor's brother Gregor in an inn and kill them, but Sandor was badly wounded. Arya harshly left him to die and made her way down the river to the mouth, where she found a Braavosi merchant ship at anchor. Using a phrase and a coin given to her by Jaqen H'Ghar, Arya was able to convince the crew to take her to safety beyond the Narrow Sea.

At Pyke on the Iron Islands, Balon Greyjoy was swept off a rope bridge by a high wave, killing him. The next day, his brother Euron, the infamous pirate and reaver known as the Crow's Eye, sailed into Lordsport, sat himself down in Pyke Castle and declared himself King in his brother's place. Thus act pulled the Greyjoys back from their various conquests: Asha Greyjoy returning from Deepwood Motte and Victarion back from Moat Cailin. To avoid the threat of an internal feud over the Driftwood Chair, the priest Aeron Greyjoy called a kingsmoot to decide on the new king. To Aeron's horror, the godless Euron won the moot and was confirmed as king after producing a horn from Valyria that he claimed could control dragons. Victarion reluctantly sweared loyalty to Euron, whilst Asha fled back to Deepwood Motte with her loyal retainers and Aeron began gathering opponents to Euron unhappy with his lack of piety to the Drowned God.

The original American cover of Swords, art by Stephen Youll.

At King's Landing, news of Robb and Balon's deaths reached the capital and was met with jubilation, with the expectation of total victory now close at hand. Lord Tywin took over as Hand of the King from the wounded Tyrion, whom he now married to Sansa Stark to give the Lannisters a claim to Winterfell. However, Tyrion, feeling sorry for the captive Sansa, refused to consummate the marriage. The rest of the castle rapidly learned of this and he became a laughing stock. In an attempt to win the Vale to their cause, Littlefinger volunteered to marry Lysa Arryn, who had been infatuated with him since childhood, and set out for the Eyrie. Shortly after this Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, arrived at the city with a number of Dornish retainers to take up the small council seat promised to House Martell by Tyrion, and also to claim Gregor Clegane's head for the rape and murder of his sister Elia during the Sack of King's Landing.

The marriage of Joffrey and Margaery was held, and Joffrey and Tyrion clashed several times during the feast. Joffrey suddenly began choking and then died, apparently the result of poison. Cersei had Tyrion seized and charged with the crime, whilst Sansa, aided by Littlefinger (who had secretly remained behind whilst everyone thought he was in the Vale), escapes the city by ship. Tyrion considered asking for trial by battle, but knew that Cersei would name Gregor her champion, a prospect that scared off most potential champions, including Bronn. Oberyn Martell had no such fears, however, and in a fierce battle he was almost victorious, using a poisoned spear to badly wound Gregor. Gregor was still able to kill Oberyn by smashing his skull, and Tyrion was condemned to death.

The cover of the first part of the two-volumed limited edition, with art by Charles Vess. This is the unused Meisha Merlin edition of the book; the SubPress version has the same art but different lettering.

Jaime and Brienne reached King's Landing to find the situation volatile. The Dornish were furious with Oberyn's death, whilst Tywin had to negotiate a new marriage pact for Margaery, this time with Joffrey's young brother Tommen. In addition, Ser Loras Tyrell believed that Brienne was responsible for Renly's death, and ordered her locked up. Jaime found both Sansa and Arya missing, so was unable to send them back to Catelyn, which of course was moot once news of her death was known. Fed up with being told what to do by his father and sister, Jaime resolved to be the best Lord Commander of the Kingsguard he could be. To start with, he convinced Loras to release Brienne. Giving her the reforged Valyrian steel sword Oathkeeper (reforged from Eddard's own sword, Ice), Jaime asked her to travel the Riverlands, find Arya and Sansa and get them to safety, somewhere.

On Dragonstone, Davos Seaworth, fearing that Melisandre would demand the life of King Robert's bastard son Edric Storm to fuel her magic, sent Edric away in secret. He then took Aemon's letter from the Night's Watch to Stannis and Melisandre and read it to them. Melisandre, who believed a great war was raging between R'hllor, Lord of Light, and the Great Other, the god of dark and cold, realised that the struggle had already begun beyond the Wall. She convinced Stannis to take ship for Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with all his remaining strength. His remaining five thousand men were not enough to continue his claim for the throne in the south, but could make all the difference on the Wall.

Jon Snow, a captive of the wildlings, was taken by Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall, and convinced him of his newfound loyalty. Rayder in turn revealed that the wildling clans and tribes had been driven south by the invasion of the Others. Rayder was looking for the Horn of Winter, the legendary artifact that could bring down the Wall, though he planned to take it intact to use as a defensive fortification. To this end, he ordered Jon and a group of wildlings to scale the Wall, loop round and take the almost-unmanned Castle Black from the south and allow the wildlings through. However, once over the Wall, Jon fled back to Castle Black and raised the small garrison, organising a defence that saw most of the raiding party killed, including his lover Ygritte. Jon began preparing defenses against the main wildling assault, aided by the survivors of the massacre on the Fist of the First Men who were trickling back in.

Bran Stark, fleeing the sack of Winterfell, headed north with his loyal servant Hodor and the two children of Howland Reed, Meera and Jojen. Jojen had the 'greensight' and determined that Bran must go north of the Wall and find the three-eyed crow who had spoken to him in his dreams. They reached the Wall at the castle known as the Nightfort but could find no way through until Samwell Tarly and Gilly came through the gate. They had been escorted to the Nightfort by a strange warrior named Coldhands, who was expecting Bran and his friends. Samwell and Gilly returned to Castle Black, having agreed not to speak of the incident, whilst the enigmatic Coldhands led Bran north.

The cover of the second volume of the Subterranean Press limited edition, art by Charles Vess.

The wildlings assaulted the Wall in force, using giants, mammoths, siege weapons and battering rams. Despite some minor successes, they were halted by Jon's defenses. Jon's work was nearly undone when Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt arrived from King's Landing and had him arrested for the alleged murder of Qhorin Halfhand. They sent him out as a suicidal assassin to kill Mance Rayder under a flag of true, but instead the wildling army was routed by the arrival of Stannis' five thousand troops. Mance Rayder was captured and some of his commanders agreed to bend the knee to Stannis. The Night's Watch held its vote for a new Lord Commander and, thanks to some negotiations carried out by Samwell Tarly, Jon Snow was elected Lord Commander, to the utter fury of Thorne and Slynt. Stannis offered to legitimise Jon and make him Lord of Winterfell, but Jon refused.

In the far east, Daenerys Targaryen was returning to Pentos from Qarth on a ship arranged by Magister Illyrio. However, Ser Jorah Mormont convinced her to sail into Slaver's Bay and try to buy an army of Unsullied, the famous warrior-eunuchs of Astapor. Sickened by the misery of the slave trade she saw, Daenerys unleashed her dragons to kill the slave-masters of the city and freed all of the slaves. Aware that two other great slave cities lie on the coast, she took her followers to Yunkai and forced them to free their slaves as well, though the city's rulers remained in command. The rulers of Meereen, the largest and greatest of the slave cities, did not prove so cooperative. She discovered that Whitebeard was really Ser Barristan Selmy and that Ser Jorah had been sending intelligence back to King's Landing as late as Qarth. To make amends, they led a suicidal mission into Meereen via the sewers and were able to open the gates and allow her army to enter the city. Daenerys took control of Meereen, but learned that the council of rulers she'd left in Astapor had been overthrown by a tyrant, Cleon the Great, who had vowed to rule in her name. Aware that the same thing could happen to Meereen, she decided against pressing on immediately to Westeros. Instead she would stay and rule, and learn how to become a queen.

In King's Landing, Jaime and Varys released Tyrion from his prison cell and agreed to help him escape. However, on the way through a secret passage Tyrion discovered the tunnel connected to his father's quarters in the Tower of the Hand. There, he discovered that his father had been sleeping with a whore Tyrion himself had fallen in love with, Shae. He killed them both in a fury before leaving the city on a ship arranged by Varys.

At the Eyrie, Sansa found a new home, but also a new threat, as her aunt was insanely jealous of her even talking to Littlefinger. Sansa learned in one of her aunt's diatribes that Lysa had poisoned Jon Arryn and blamed it on the Lannisters at Littlefinger's urging. Littlefinger, aware that Lysa is going insane, pushes her thousands of feet to her death and blames it on the court singer, Marillion.

Finally, the Brotherhood Without Banners found Catelyn Stark's body in the Trident, some miles downriver from the Twins. They pulled her ashore and Beric was able to restore her to life, but only at the cost of his own existence. Catelyn, now dubbed 'Lady Stoneheart' by the Brotherhood, commanded them to seek out and murder all of those who had a hand in the Red Wedding.

The unused UK cover art for Crows, art by Jim Burns.

A Feast for Crows
In Oldtown Pate, a novice at the Citadel, was killed by an assailant who resembled Jaqen H'Ghar. Jaqen, apologetic about the need to kill him, took on Pate's face and infiltrated the Citadel for purposes unknown.

In King's Landing the funeral of Tywin Lannister was held. Cersei, the Queen Regent, asked her uncle Kevan to serve as King's Hand and Kevan agreed, but only if she would return to Casterly Rock and leave him to govern the realm. She angrily rejected his insinuation that she was an incompetent ruler. She named the biddable Harys Swyft as Hand and installed the small council with her own minions: Gyles Rosby as master of coin, the sellsail Aurane Waters as master of ships and the sinister Maester Qyburn as master of whisperers, since Varys had vanished. She also had the Tower of the Hand burned down. Qyburn had been trying to keep Gregor Clegane alive and requested Cersei's permission to carry out certain experiments on him he thought might be useful. She agreed.

The current UK edition, cover art by Larry Rostant.

At the Wall, Samwell Tarly was told by Jon that he must travel to Oldtown and become a maester at the Citadel, with a special focus on finding out as much as possible about the Others from the library there. Gilly and Maester Aemon would go with him, as would Mance Rayder's baby son, swapped with Gilly's newborn son, to protect them from Melisandre's fires. They took ship from Eastwatch and travelled to the Free City of Braavos. However, Aemon fell ill and they were stuck in the city for weeks waiting for him to recover. One of their escorts, Dareon, abandoned the mission in favour of making money and getting drunk in the taverns of the city. Samwell found a ship from the Summer Isles whose captain called in at Qarth and saw Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons there. The captain agreed to take Samwell's party on to Oldtown. Aemon realised that Daenerys must be the true Prince Who Was Promised, with her dragons as her sword of flame, and resolved to travel to Meereen to offer her counsel. Instead, he died at sea. Gilly comforted Sam and they become lovers.

In Braavos, Arya found refuge at the House of Black and White, the temple Jaqen served. She discovered that the House was dedicated to the Many-Faced God, the god of death, and served by the Faceless Men, the elite and infamous order of assassins. The priests agreed to train her in their ways, but insisted she must leave the identity of Arya Stark behind. She tried to do so, becoming Cat of the Canals, but upon finding Dareon, a deserter from the Night's Watch, her Stark heritage reasserted itself and she executed him for desertion and oathbreaking. The priests, annoyed by her lapse, took her sight away in punishment.

The unused US cover art for Crows, by Stephen Youll.

In the Riverlands, Brienne searched for Arya and Sansa to no avail. She found some assistance from Pod, Tyrion's former squire, and Ser Hyle Hunt. They found several surviving members of the Brave Companions and killed them all. At a septry in the mouth in the Trident, she learned from a holy brother that Arya Stark was seen taking ship for places unknown, and that 'the Hound' had been found nearby and had died. However, another warrior had taken on the name of the Hound, sacked a nearby town and was causing havoc in the area. Brienne found and killed him, but in turn she and her friends were captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners and taken before Lady Stoneheart, the resurrected Catelyn. Catelyn determined that Brienn had betrayed her mission by letting Jaime go free without finding her daughters first, and threatened to hang Brienne if she didn't kill Jaime. When Brienne refused, Catelyn had her hanged, but as she did so, Brienne screamed out a word.

Paxter Redwyne's fleet from the Arbor, loyal to Lord Mace Tyrell, put Dragonstone under siege whilst Mace's army did the same to Storm's End. Cersei had the High Septon, a vain man whom Tyrion had installed, assassinated, but was dismayed to find his replacement a religious martinet. However, Cersei then discovered that the new High Septon could be reasoned with and they reached a deal: the Faith of the Seven would forgive the crown its massive debt if in return Cersei would restore the warrior orders of the Faith Militant, which had been disbanded after a war lasting a dozen years against Kings Aenys, Maegor and Jaehaerys. To Pycelle's horror, Cersei agreed, and soon the Warrior's Sons and the Poor Fellows were armed once more.

At the Eyrie, the lords of the Vale confronted Littlefinger, angry with his position as Lord Protector of the Vale. One of the lords became angry and bared steel at the meeting in violation of custom, allowing Littlefinger to shame the lords of the Vale into agreeing to let him remain Lord Protector for one year. Sansa realised that Littlefinger set the whole thing up. Impressed, Littlefinger told her more of his scheme. Little Robert Arryn was sickly and weak. His heir was Harry Hardyng, a popular young knight and warrior. If Harry were to marry Sansa, that would give Sansa an army with which to retake Winterfell. With snow falling more thickly about the Eyrie, the court of the Vale removed itself to the more clement location of the Gates of the Moon, located at the base of the mountain.

The first part of the SubPress limited edition, art by Tom Canty.

Jaime Lannister rode to Riverrun with a number of men, including Ser Ilyn Payne and Ser Ronnet Connington, though he grows tired of the latter and sent him off to deliver Wylis Manderly, a former hostage now released since House Manderly has returned to the king's peace, to Maidenpool, from where he could take ship for White Harbour. At Riverrun Jaime forced Ser Brynden Tully to surrender the castle, but Brynden escaped by the river. The Freys took possession of the castle, their reward for the Red Wedding, and Edmure Tully was sent back to Casterly Rock as a captive. Jaime then saw snow falling across the Riverlands and realised, with horror for there was no time to gather another harvest, winter had arrived.

The ironborn launched a fresh campaign, invading and capturing all of the Shield Isles and raiding heavily along the coast of the Reach. King Euron summoned his brother Victarion and told him he was sending Victarion and the Iron Fleet to Slaver's Bay. There they would seize Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons using the magic horn, and bring her back to Westeros to be Euron's wife, after which he would use the dragons to conquer the entire continent. Victarion agreed, but secretly planned to betray Euron by taking Daenerys for himself. The Iron Fleet set out for Meereen.

At King's Landing, word of the ironborn attacks reached Margaery Tyrell, who angrily demanded that Cersei send help. Cersei had become increasingly tired of the Tyrells and their demands and refused to break the siege of Dragonstone. Ser Loras volunteered to take the castle. If he succeeded quickly, Cersei agreed that Paxter Redwyne's fleet could return to the west coast and fight the ironborn. Ser Loras set out and Dragonstone indeed fell, but at the cost of Ser Loras being severely wounded. Neverthless, Redwyne's fleet set out for home, as agreed.

The second part of the SubPress limited edition, art by Tom Canty.

Deciding that Margaery was an unsuitable wife for her son, Cersei set out to discredit Margaery by insinuating that she was not a virgin to the newly-powerful High Septon. The High Septon had Margaery imprisoned and examined, and it was confirmed she was indeed not a virgin (though Cersei herself noted that such a thing is not uncommon amongst young noblewomen who spend a lot of time riding horses). Cersei's plan spectacularly backfired when the High Septon puts the false accusers of Margaery to torture and discovered the plot, and so he had Cersei imprisoned as well. Mace Tyrell lifted the siege of Storm's End and raced back to the city. Cersei sent for Jaime, but he refused to return to the capital. Qyburn offered another choice: his experiments on Gregor had been completed (despite his head being sent back to Dorne to appease Prince Doran for Oberyn's death) and now a mighty champion stood ready to defend the queen in a trial by battle. However, Cersei knew that only knights of the Kingsguard could defend the royal family, and the Kingsguard were all still alive. During the chaos, Aurane Waters absconded with the newly-rebuilt Royal Fleet.

In Dorne, Princess Myrcella Baratheon, betrothed to Prince Trystane, fell into a conspiracy set in motion by Princess Arianne Martell, heir to the throne of Dorne. To avenge themselves upon the Lannisters, Arianne planned to declare Myrcella Queen of the Seven Kingdoms (by Dornish law, Myrcella would have a superior claim to the throne to Tommen), with Dorne - as yet untouched by the war - backing her. She had even convinced Myrcelle's bodyguard, Ser Arys Oakheart, a knight of the Kingsguard, to back the plan. However, the plan was discovered by Prince Doran. There was a struggle and Myrcella was injured by one of Arianne's allies, Ser Gerold Dayne, the Darkstar, whilst Ser Arys was killed by Doran's captain of the guard, Areo Hotah.

Taken back to Sunspear as a prisoner, Arianne was confronted by her father. He told her that the Martells were playing a long game designed to get revenge for the deaths of Elia and Oberyn. Arianne had been secretly promised in marriage to Viserys Targaryen (though he had not been told of the plan) since she was young. At the right time, Viserys would have crossed to Dorne with an army from the eastern continent and they would have made a play for the Iron Throne. However, Viserys' death changed all of that. As a result Arianne's brother Quentyn was now on his way to Meereen to win Daenerys' hand in marriage and bring her - and her soldiers and her dragons - back to Dorne to fulfil the plan and help them destroy the Lannisters once and for all.

Samwell and Gilly finally reached Oldtown, though the ironborn campaign had continued, with them raiding Oldtown and conquering a stretch of the Arbor as well. Samwell arrived at the Citadel and met Archmaester Marwyn, seen as a maverick by the other maesters for his interest is in the 'higher mysteries' or magic. Marwyn revealed that in the last few months the old Valyrian candles, used to help them communicate across vast distances, had suddenly started working again. When Samwell told him about Daenerys, Aemon and the Prince Who Was Promised, Marwyn realised that these events were all connected. He took ship for Meereen, telling Samwell to learn as fast and as hard as possible and get back to the Wall, where he would be needed. He commended Samwell to the care of two young students: Alleras (who is almost certainly Sarella, one of Oberyn Martell's bastard daughters, in the Citadel for purposes unknown)...and a boy named Pate.

SourcesThe novels.
The 'Dunk and Egg' prequel novellas.
The RPGs published by Guardians of Order and Green Ronin.
Information directly from George R.R. Martin collected at the So Spake Martin site on Westeros.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Some new cover art

First up, the US cover art for The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, the follow-up to the well-received Quantum Thief.

Some smart Finnish cover art, as pointed out by Jussi at From left to right, that's Richard Morgan's Black Man, Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer and Steph Swainston's No Present Like Time.

And also the Finnish edition of China Mieville's The City and the City.

Cool stuff. I like these Finnish covers, quite moody and interesting.

Speculative World Map for A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE

Thanks to one of the more detailed maps of the Free Cities that appeared today, I have managed to assemble a very rough speculative world map.

I can see my house (of the Undying/Black and White etc)!

Obviously, Westeros is in the west, with the Free Cities immediately across the Narrow Sea to the east. Further inland is the vast Dothraki Sea and the city of Vaes Dothrak. South-east of there lies Lhazar, land of the lamb-men (where Daenerys hatched her dragons), and further south is the forbidding Red Waste and the great trading city of Qarth on the entrance to the Jade Sea.

Note that, whilst much of the coastline and in particular the area around Qarth is totally random, the distance from the Free Cities to Slaver's Bay is accurate. I also based the far north-eastern coast of Essos on screengrabs from the Game of Thrones TV title sequence, which shows the coastline beyond Vaes Dothrak. I also included the Summer Isles (south of Westeros) and the Iceland-like island of Ibben in the far north. Not show are Asshai and the other lands of the Jade Sea. In addition, I based this map on the 'Jade Sea = Indian Ocean' school of ASoIaF cartography rather than the 'Jade Sea = Black Sea' school, pretty much for no other reason than I felt like it.

So there you go. It'll like be some years - if ever - before a full and official map of the world emerges, but this should hopefully make things a little clearer.

Monday, 27 June 2011

An early escape for the Dragons

Each of the four previous volumes in A Song of Ice and Fire is notable for being released in the UK before the USA, in the case of A Clash of Kings over four months earlier. Obviously this had problems with spoilers being available online for the books long before the American edition of the novel came out, so for A Dance with Dragons Bantam had carefully coordinated its release so it would come out in all relevant territories on the same day, minimising the risk of spoilers. They also put in place a review embargo preventing reviews from appearing in the press until just before release day.

Hide from the searing light of a billion ADWD spoilers!

Typically, these plans have been fouled up by an administrative error. For a few hours earlier today, (the German branch of Amazon) was selling copies of A Dance with Dragons for immediate dispatch. Word spread and a number of fans, including some in the USA, were able to order the book before Amazon realised what was happening and reverted the date back to the official release day of 12 July. Unfortunately (for the publishers), they appear to not have been in time to stop a few of the orders going out.

So, in a day or two, expect to start seeing discussions of A Dance with Dragons appearing in various corners of the Internet. All of the major fansites will likely put into place spoiler warnings for any discussions that take place, so it's a good idea to keep an eye out for such warnings. I've already heard some extreme spoilerphobes vowing not to log back into the Internet until after the book's official release date, which seems a tad drastic, but given the danger of being spoiled at the last minute having just waited six or indeed eleven years for this novel, this is somewhat understandable.

This blog will continue to be an ADWD-spoiler-free zone until further notice, however :-)

Friday, 24 June 2011

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

2090. Sixty years ago, humanity landed on Mars, and stayed. The First Hundred led the colonisation effort, soon joined by other colonists and settlers. Thirty years after arriving, the people of Mars demanded political independence from the trans-national megacorps that were gradually subsuming national governments on Earth into their influence. The result was the First Martian Revolution, a revolution that was crushed. During the fighting Phobos was destroyed, the space elevator linking Mars to space fell and two-thirds of the First Hundred were killed.

Mars is becoming greener, with algae, lichen and primitive plants growing on the surface. The atmosphere is thickening, the icecaps are melting and the terraforming is proceeding at a pace outstripping the most optimistic projections. Now several new generations of native Martians have been born, all chafing against the rule of a planet millions of miles away that they care little about. Thirty-nine of the First Hundred still live, their lives extended by an experimental - and expensive - treatment that is only available to the rich and powerful on Earth, fuelling civil unrest there, whilst being freely available on Mars. Over the course of almost forty years, the Martians prepare for a new bid for independence, one that will be led by reasoned argument rather than mindless violence.

Green Mars is the second novel in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, his epic account of the colonisation and terraforming of Mars. The first novel, Red Mars, concerned itself with the initial landing, exploration and colonisation of Mars, and the changes wrought by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of fresh immigrants from different cultures, culminating in the bloody and failed revolution. The second novel is principally about learning from the mistakes of the first attempt and preparing for a second, more ambitious revolution. At the same time, the terraforming of Mars and the science behind it remains a key focus, as Robinson floods the Hellas Basin and Vastitas Borealis, tents over canyons to make viable living spaces, thickens the atmosphere, and increases sunlight through the arrival of a huge mirror in Martian orbit.

Green Mars is not an action-packed novel, although there are more action beats than I remember from my first read of this novel some twenty years ago. One of the First Hundred is imprisoned by one of the corporations and his comrades have to rescue him, whilst later on some of the more radical groups launch a terrorism campaign against the Earth-imposed government on Mars. Towards the end of the book, the second revolution is launched which results in some impressive imagery: the flooding of the city of Burroughs after the nearby dyke is blown and two hundred thousand people have to walk seventy kilometres to safety and trust that the atmosphere is as breathable as the scientists claim is a stirring image, almost as memorable as the fall of the space elevator in the previous novel.

But for the most part, this is a hard SF novel, concerned with the physical sciences involved in terraforming and with the social sciences of how to meld a new society together out of myriad competing interests. A minor weakness of the first novel is that Robinson's own politics were too often on display, but in Green Mars he does a better job of portraying all sides of the debate. The would-be rebels' extremely reluctant alliance with one of the more democratic megacorps seems to be an admission that as much as you may want to escape the woes of Earth and fly off to another planet to found a utopian paradise, you really can't, at least not whilst that society is dependent on science and technology to survive, and is not totally self-sufficient (yet, though by the end of the novel it's close).

For the most part, our characters are survivors of the First Hundred: Maya, Michel, Nadia and Sax, who have seen their dream (not unanimously shared) of a free, green Mars corrupted by corporate interests. They are joined as POV characters by Nirgal, the son of Hiroko, who represents the Martian-born generation, and by Art, representing the metanational corporation Praxis, who tries to form an alliance with the Martian revolutionaries and then finds himself unexpectedly inheriting the mantle of John Boone from the first book as the guy who can talk to everyone, no matter their agenda. Characterisation is pretty strong, helped by the fact that many of these characters are now extremely old and have changed a fair bit from the first novel: the formerly quiet Sax is aggressive and angry after a spell in jail, Maya has realised what an unpleasant person she was in her youth and is determined to change, and Nadia has embraced her status as someone who is respected and listened to (which pays off handsomely in the final novel in the trilogy).

As with the first novel, this book isn't a thriller or an adventure (though it has elements of those in some sequences). It's a hardcore novel about how the colonisation of Mars could really happen. This manifests itself most notably in a lengthy mid-novel sequence in which the competing factions gather together to decide on the future of Mars. Rather than a quick gathering and a bunch of people agreeing on a way forwards, this takes the form of a month-long conference with tons of arguments which ends in a compromise declaration that satisfies no-one and people are unhappy with but nevertheless reluctantly agree on. Robinson draws parallels (some subtle, most not) not only with the Continental Congress and the American Declaration of Independence, but also with the Russian Revolution, even naming the chapter in question What Is To Be Done? Many will find this sequence mind-bogglingly boring, but those with an interest in history and politics will find it fascinating and convincingly realistic (though maybe only up until the slightly hippy-tastic closing ceremony where everyone celebrates the end of the conference by going surfing on an underground lake, which feels a bit random).

On the more negative side, Green Mars is almost 800 pages long, some 150 pages longer than the first book, and there is less decisive forward movement in the plot compared to the first novel. Some sequences feel rather skimmable, mostly those involving the in-depth political discussions on the differences between the Marsfirsters, the Reds, the First Hundred, the Bodanovists, the Arab settlers and what feels like fifty other groups. Yet Robinson is also laying out the groundwork for the explosive Second Revolution (the novel finishes with the revolution unfinished, giving us something of a cliffhanger), in particular having to explain how the mistakes of the 2061 rebellion are not repeated. Necessary, but not always gripping.

Beyond that, there are the rich, evocative and atmospheric descriptions of the changing Martian landscape, the sheer scope as Robinson tries to channel as many scientific disciplines as possible to paint the most realistic picture possible of the colonisation effort (in this regard there are similarities with Aldiss' similarly fantastic worldbuilding for Helliconia), the richly-realised characters and the sometimes poetic and lyrical power of his prose (though he falls back into a dry, academic and textbook-like approach a little bit too often).

Green Mars (****) won both the Hugo and Locus awards for best novel in 1994 and it's easy to see why. This is inspiring and epic hard SF, though it stumbles a little with pacing and tone. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Natalie Dormer joins GAME OF THRONES

In the first casting announcement for Game of Thrones' forthcoming second season, it has been confirmed that actress Natalie Dormer will be playing Margaery Tyrell.

Natalia Dormer is an English actress with a string of credits to her name (including an appearance in the forthcoming Captain America movie), but is best-known for playing Anne Boleyn on the first two seasons of The Tudors. Her performance on the show was particularly acclaimed.

On Thrones, she will be playing Margaery Tyrell, the daughter of Lord Mace Tyrell and brother to Ser Loras Tyrell. In the books she is part of the intrigue put in motion by Mace as he attempts to attach his family to the Iron Throne, first as part of an abortive plot to have Robert divorce Cersei and marry Margaery instead (a plot wholly absent from the TV series) and later using her as a pawn when Renly Baratheon (Loras' lover) claims the Iron Throne.

According to the report, Dormer will be joining the show's regular cast, which is surprising news, given that Margaery is barely in the second book and doesn't really start playing a major role until the fourth. This move, as well as the casting of a reasonably well-known actress from another successful TV show, suggests that Margaery's role is being beefed up for the TV series. Exactly how much her role is increased by remains to be seen.

The 70th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa

On 22 June 1941, seventy years ago yesterday, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, beginning one of the most bloody struggles in human history. In terms of the number of men and materials committed, the casualties sustained (military and civilian), the development of fresh technologies and its grand strategic importance, the war between Germany and Russia was the Second World War. Everything else - the Pacific, D-Day, the Battle of Britain - was a mere sideshow (which is not the same as saying that they were unimportant or irrelevant, and indeed they were vital in many ways, but the scale of the war in Eastern Europe was considerably vaster in scale and scope).

A streamlined map of the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa.

The war in the east is relatively little-known in the UK and USA. The Cold War led to a general playing down of the Russian contribution to the Allied victory in the war for several decades, something that was only lifted with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent opening of the Soviet historical archives. Since then a lot of work and research has been done, ultimately proving that the war in the east was considerably more titanic and horrific than even first thought, as the Soviets themselves had downplayed their own colossal losses during the conflict. In WW2 overall, somewhere between 50 and 70 million people were killed. Of those killed, at least 27 million died in Russia alone, and even that figure is probably low-balling it. That's not counting the millions of German soldiers who died fighting on the eastern front, or the hundreds of thousands of German civilians killed in the Russian counter-invasion of Germany during the closing months of the war. All-told, around half and possibly considerably more of the total casualties of the conflict were incurred in this one theatre. To put the scale of things into context, at the battle for Kiev alone, the Russians lost more men killed and captured than the United States lost in the entire war. At the Siege of Leningrad alone, the Russians lost more lives than the USA and UK incurred combined in the entire war.

These numbers, to Western eyes used to discussing with horror the thousands killed in the bombing of Coventry or on the beaches on D-Day, are almost impossible to comprehend. Russia was only able to withstand and bear them only because it was in the grip of a regime as brutal and possibly even more cynical than that of the Nazis themselves.

In WWI, Russia, France and Britain fought against the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Russia invaded Germany from the east but was halted at two huge battles (at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes) and thrown back. Over the course of three years, the Germans pushed deep into Russian territory. After the Russian Revolution, Lenin sued for peace, giving up a huge amount of territory in western Russia to the Germans. When Germany was defeated in turn by Britain, France and the United States, it had to give that land back to the Soviet Union and cede even more territory to an independent Poland, something that rankled. Germany was a small, over-populated state squeezed in by surrounding European powers. The idea of having open spaces to live in, particularly the vast, lightly-populated fields and plains of the Ukraine not that far to the east, was very attractive. In his 1924 book, Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler made a great play of this idea, calling it lebensraum ('living space') and making it a cornerstone of Nazi ideology and German political and military aims.

Under Lenin and then Stalin, the Soviet Union was under no allusions that Germany presented a long-term threat. Stalin instituted a series of policies to modernise Soviet agriculture and industry, transforming it from a backwater to an industrial superpower in just over a decade of constant - and extremely costly - effort. With the threat of a new war growing through the 1930s, Britain and France attempted to forge a new alliance with Russia, similar to the one that was in place in 1914. The Soviets were open to the suggestion, but pointed out that in order to attack Germany, they would need to cross Poland. The Polish government vehemently opposed this, fearing they'd be occupied-by-proxy if millions of Soviet soldiers crossed through their territory. The severity of this argument reached new heights in 1938 at the Munich Conference, when Chamberlain used the threat of a Russian attack to try to coerce a peace agreement from Hitler. The outcome of the conference was the effective partition of Czechoslovakia and France standing down from its prior commitment to defend Czechoslovakia with military force. Stalin was furious, believing that this was a betrayal of Czechoslovakia.

Stalin instead pursued a plan for a separate peace with Hitler, culminating in the August 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact, in which the two diametrically-opposed regimes agreed to a close alliance. The cynicism of this move shocked the world, and was soon put into practice when the two powers jointly invaded Poland and carved the country up between them. Britain and France went to war regardless but Germany, with no need to worry about its eastern frontier, was able to bring its full might to bear against them, defeating and conquering France and driving the British army from the continent.

However, right from the start, Hitler planned to betray the pact. His goal was the lebensraum which could only be gained from Russian territory, the annihilation of the Slavic people (whom he considered to be sub-human), the extermination of the millions of Jews living in the Soviet Union and Germany's acquirement of Russia's immense oil reserves and other natural resources. To this end the Red Army would have to be destroyed. Emboldened by the unexpected success of the blitzkrieg tactics used against Poland and France, Hitler gave the order on 18 December 1940 formally confirming that Germany would invade the Soviet Union no later than May 1941.

The Russians knew that the Germans would turn on them, but Stalin believed that it would not be for some time. He believed he had until 1943 before the Germans would be ready to mount a war against him and that Germany would not launch a war in the east with Britain still undefeated in the west, so whilst the Red Army began making preparations to defend against an invasion, there were not very far-advanced by the time the spring and summer of 1941 rolled around.

As it turned out, the Germans were unexpectedly delayed by unfolding complications on their southern front. Britain landed significant numbers of troops in Greece to aid that country against an Italian offensive, whilst a massive uprising in Yugoslavia threatened to destroy Axis influence in that country. Hitler had to break off a number of forces earmarked for the Russian operation to put down the revolt and retake Greece (as well as taking Crete to stop the British using it to reinforce their Greek bridgehead). The importance of this delay has been debated at length: the weather conditions on the frontier between Germany and the USSR were atrocious for much of May 1941, and a delay into June would likely have been warranted anyway.

During the countdown to the conflict, the Germans began moving immense numbers of men and material eastwards. They established three huge Army Groups along the frontier, and sent significant numbers of troops north to Finland to bolster the Finnish army there. These movements could not escape the attention of Stalin, but Stalin remained convinced that Hitler would not invade Russia as it would mean a two-front war, something Hitler was as ideologically opposed to as he was in favour of war with the Soviets. Stalin was not aware that Hitler had convinced himself that Britain, whilst still in the fight, was effectively neutralised and besieged, and thus could play no further significant role in the conflict. Stalin instead became convinced that Hitler was bluffing in the hopes of winning further economic and political concessions from the Russians and would not be convinced otherwise, even when plans for the invasion fell into Russian hands and multiple Russian agents in Berlin and elsewhere reported that the German military and politicians were openly discussing the coming invasion.

As such, on the evening of 21 June 1941, the Red Army was unprepared for combat. Its divisions and formations along the frontier with Germany were under-strength and in some cases under-equipped. They were not in a line of battle, and some divisions were scattered over dozens of miles. They'd even been warned that Germans might stage 'provocations' for political purposes and they were not to fire back if fired upon by the German forces.

At Nuremberg, various Nazi officials and generals suggested that they knew the attack on the USSR was foolhardy and that they tried to argue Hitler out of it. For the most part, this was untrue. The German military had a very poor opinion of the Red Army following Stalin's purges, which had left most of the officers dead and the new officers untrained and untried. The Red Army's showing against Finland in the Winter War had been shambolic at best, the Russian victory only coming about due to overwhelming superiority of numbers. Russian equipment also appeared to be inferior to the Germans, most notably with regard to aircraft. This opinion was shared elsewhere: analysts in Washington and London both believed that the Russian state was so rotten it would collapse if a German invasion was successful and not quickly repelled. On the eve of the war, the Germans had near-total expectations of a swift and stunning victory.

German forces invading Kharkov.

At approximately 2am on 22 June 1941, the German military launched an assault on the Soviet Union that was unprecedented in scale and scope. Over 3.3 million men crossed the frontier, backed by thousands of aircraft and tanks. The Luftwaffe launched huge air raids on Sevastopol and other Russian cities in the south of the country, whilst the German navy had mined the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, throwing Russian shipping into chaos. The generals and political leaders in Moscow flatly refused to believe an invasion was happening, and it was some hours before the reality sank in. At this point Stalin, apparently so shocked by the invasion that he'd been rendered near-insensible, went to ground for several days, leaving the Soviet leadership unsure about what action to take.

The Germans invaded in three formations. Army Group North, under General von Leeb, advanced northwards through the Baltic States towards Leningrad. With the Baltic States recently conquered by the Russians, the natives welcomed the Germans and assisted them in identifying collaborators and providing intelligence on the Red Army's positions. Army Group Centre under Field Marshal von Bock invaded on a north-easterly axis towards Minsk, whilst Army Group South under Field Marshal von Runstedt advanced to the south-east towards the southern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula.

Virtually the entire Russian air force was obliterated in the opening salvos of the attack: five thousand planes were destroyed in the first week, most of them on the ground. This allowed the Luftwaffe to concentrate on attacking Red Army formations on the ground, pounding them almost unimpeded. This was blitzkrieg in its purest form, across a territory so huge that the Germans could employ it to staggering levels. The aircraft would hit the enemy formations first, sometimes devastating them with few to no losses taken, before German Panzers and ground troops went in in waves, encircling and surrounding thousands of Russian troops at a time and forcing them to surrender. This process was repeated again and again, quickly and efficiently.

German progress was impressive: nine days into the attack, the ancient Latvian capital of Riga fell. Less than a week later Minsk fell, with 290,000 Russian prisoners taken. On 10 July the Finns, backed up by German reinforcements, crossed the frontier and retook the Karelian isthmus, cutting off Leningrad from the north. The German forces at Minsk then moved out and took a relieving Soviet army by surprise, encircling it and capturing an additional 394,000 soldiers. By 5 August, Smolensk to the north-east, halfway between the frontier and Moscow, had fallen. In mid-August Stalin vowed to Churchill that the Soviet Union would never surrender Kiev and would defend the ancient Ukrainian capital to the last drop of its blood. Instead, it had fallen by 19 August, with more than 650,000 Red Army soldiers taken prisoner. Sevastopol was under siege soon afterwards. On 27 August Army Group North reached the outskirts of Leningrad and began establishing siege lines around the southern side of the city, whilst the Finns cut off the city from the north.

Eight weeks into the invasion, the Germans had inflicted incredible losses on the Russians: millions of Russian troops had been killed, wounded or captured and millions more civilians had been killed, wounded, captured, put under occupation or forced to flee. The Russians had lost thousands of tanks and aircraft. Riga, Minsk, Smolensk, Kiev, Leningrad and Sevastopol, some of the greatest cities in the Soviet Union, were in enemy hands or under siege.

The Russian T-34 tank, their most formidable weapon against the Nazi invasion.

The Germans were pleased by their successes, but now started noted what these victories had cost them. German losses were higher than anticipated, due to the fanatical zeal of the Russians in fighting to the last man (as the Russian commissars had made it clear that any soldier who surrendered was a traitor and any who retreated would be shot), meaning that sometimes each enemy force had to be exterminated in its entirety, rather than simply convinced into surrendering once it was surrounded, as had happened in France and elsewhere. The Germans were also concerned that they had badly underestimated the strength of the Red Army: they had expected to face 200 enemy divisions but had counted well past 360. Finally, the Germans' much-vaunted technical superiority had been matched by the Russian deployment of rocket artillery batteries, the katyushas, which were easily mobile and extremely deadly. Even more of a shock was the Russian deployment of the KV-1 and T-34 tanks, which completely outstripped anything in the German arsenal. Stories of it taking several Panzer IVs to stop a single T-34 abounded, and only the extremely piecemeal nature in which the new Soviet tanks were deployed stopped them from becoming a bigger problem.

In addition, the swiftness of the German advance had left tens of thousands of Russian partisans behind the German lines, and these partisans now proved to be a huge nuisance, disrupting supply convoys, waylaying reinforcements and destroying infrastructure that the Germans urgently needed to keep the front line moving. Essentially, by the late summer of 1941 the Germans had expended their initial momentum and inertia and were becoming bogged down, especially at Leningrad and Sevastopol.

The Advance on Moscow
The German generals now urged Hitler to move decisively on Moscow with Army Group Centre and take the city. Originally, Moscow had been labelled as a secondary target at best, its capture or destruction desirable for political and propaganda purposes, but militarily valueless. This was a questionable decision by Hitler, since Stalin (now back in the saddle following his initial breakdown) was directing the entire war effort from Moscow. Capturing or killing him, or forcing him to flee the city, would effectively decapitate the Red Army and be of military value. However, Hitler was somewhat obsessed with the story of Napoleon (he had visited Napoleon's tomb in Paris after the French surrender and had said it was the finest moment of his life) and in particular with his war with Russia, when Napoleon had taken half a million troops to capture Moscow, succeeded, but then forced to retreat by a bitter winter which killed most of his men before they saw home. Hitler, rather uncharacteristically at this stage of the war, dithered, and lost valuable days and weeks before he finally ordered the assault on Moscow.

The time lost proved critical. It wasn't until 2 October, with the temperature already starting to fall, that Army Group Centre began its advance. Initially it was business as usual, with the Germans taking another 650,000 prisoners at Vyazma and Bryansk. Soviet resistance stiffened, and the pace of the German advance slowed. In mid-October huge rainfalls turned the area the Germans were crossing into a miasma of mud and rain. By mid-November the mud had frozen, which allowed better progress, but it also brought new problems. The Germans lacked proper winter clothing, and the fuel in their trucks was freezing solid overnight, meaning they could only be started by soldiers lighting fires underneath their vehicles to thaw them out.

Fighting outside of Moscow.

Nevertheless, the army approached the outskirts of Moscow. The plan was to entrap the city in a classic pincer movement, with Guderian advancing southwards to Tula and Reinhardt north to the Moskva River. The two armies would then turn and meet beyond Moscow. Unfortunately, the weather made the plan unworkable. Temperatures hit -20 C at the end of November. By 5 December, Guderian was reporting -30 and Reinhardt -38. The German forces were essentially frozen solid and could not advance. Hitler, fuming, was forced to call a temporary halt whilst the generals debated whether to try to press on, stay where they were, or try to withdraw to a safer line.

These discussions were quickly rendered moot. On 6 December the Red Army launched a major counter-offensive. The Germans were completely taken by surprise, convinced they had driven back all of the Red Army units in the area. They were not aware that Stalin had received intelligence from his top agent in Tokyo that the Japanese were about to launch a huge offensive against Britain and America in South-East Asia and the Pacific, leaving them no forces to menace the eastern Soviet frontier. Taking an uncharacteristic gamble, Stalin withdrew tens of thousands of fresh troops from the Soviet Far East and shuttled them to Moscow. Under the command of the formidable General Zhukov, these forces reformed into two wings and launched their counter-thrusts, their soldiers equipped with winter clothing (and, where necessary, skis) and their already-superior tanks operating with fuel that didn't freeze.

The Germans suffered their first major reversal on the eastern front, but not easily. The Germans fought hard, giving ground only when absolutely necessary. On 15 January 1942 Hitler authorised a withdrawal to a stable line 90 miles from Moscow and repulsed Russian attempts to breach it. Never again would an attack on Moscow be attempted, for the next year's campaign Hitler's attention turned to the southern front...and a city on the distant Volga called Stalingrad.

Operation Barbarossa was over. The Germans had killed over four million Red Army soldiers, but lost more than a million men themselves in the process. They had taken millions of Red Army troops prisoner, killed millions more Russian civilians and expended vast amounts of resources, only to find the Russians still capable of raising fresh armies and still capable of mounting huge counter-offensives. Hitler's hopes for victory diminished even further when, twenty-four hours after the Russian counter-offensive began, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, drawing the United States into the war. In possibly his most demented decision of the entire war (but it has tough competition), Hitler chose to declare war on the United States four days later, sealing his own doom by pitting Germany simultaneously against the two greatest economic powers in the world.

Seventy years on, Operation Barbarossa remains one of the largest military operations in history (strong arguments suggest it is still the biggest single military incursion of its kind) and the turning point of the Second World War. Without it, and if the Germans had never attacked the Soviet Union, the shape of history would have been very different indeed. The fact that it remains obscure amongst the general population of the UK and USA remains stunning.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire So Far Part 3: Thrones and Kings

This third part of the re-read takes us into the novels themselves. I have taken the liberty here of re-ordering events chronologically, to give a little more clarity to events.

Note, if you are watching the TV series alone this article contains spoilers of such an apocalyptic magnitude they will cause your eyes to melt and dribble out of your sockets. Do not read on unless you want the entire second season spoiled for you a year before it's on screen.

A Game of Thrones
In the 298th year after Aegon's Landing, the fourteenth year of King Robert Baratheon's rule, the Seven Kingdoms once again began slipping into chaos and war.

The original 1996 US hardcover of A Game of Thrones, which is now worth quite a bit. Art by Tom Hallman.

Robert's younger brother Stannis, Lord of Dragonstone, served on the king's small council as master of ships and the commander of the royal fleet. Stannis developed a suspicion that his brother's three children - Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen - were not Robert's offspring at all, but possibly the product of a liaison between Queen Cersei Lannister and her own twin brother, Jaime, the Kingslayer. Stannis was aware that if he went to Robert with this information, it would appear to be self-serving: if Robert's children were not his, then Stannis became the heir to the Iron Throne. Stannis enlisted the aid of Lord Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, in proving the truth of the matter and they undertook an investigation. Jon visited several of Robert's bastards and noted their close physical resemblance to their father. He also investigated the histories and lineages of the Seven Kingdoms, and discovered that in every match between Lannister and Baratheon (and there had been a few over the centuries), the Baratheon features won out over the Lannisters. Yet Robert's children were fair-haired.

Convinced that the Lannisters had betrayed the king, Stannis returned to Dragonstone and began gathering his supporters and bannermen. Jon Arryn remained in King's Landing, gathering enough evidence to convince even Robert, but Stannis and Jon made a surreptitious deal to foster Jon's young son Robert Arryn on Dragonstone with Stannis, a plan that Jon's wife Lysa (who was notoriously over-protective of her son) objected to most strenuously. During this period Jon Arryn fell ill and died, apparently of a fever, but Stannis was sure it was an assassination arranged by the Lannisters. Lysa apparently felt the same way, sending a letter to her sister Catelyn, the wife of Lord Eddard Stark, warning her of this.

The original UK cover of A Game of Thrones, art by Jim Burns.

In the meantime, King Robert, oblivious to these machinations, travelled to Winterfell with his entourage to ask Eddard to take up the role of Hand of the King to replace Jon Arryn. Eddard agreed as a means of investigating the situation in King's Landing and seeing if there was any danger to the king. He also accepted Robert's proposal that they marry Robert's son Joffrey to Eddard's daughter Sansa. However, Eddard's son Bran, who liked to climb, discovered Jaime and Cersei in bed and was discovered. Jaime threw him from the tower, but Bran survived, albeit with no memory of the incident.

Eddard set out south with the king's part and his daughters, Sansa and Arya. He left his eldest son and heir Robb to rule Winterfell in his stead, along with his younger sons Bran and Rickon. Eddard's bastard son, Jon Snow, was not welcome at Winterfell in his absence, so Jon elected to join Eddard's brother Benjen on the Wall, taking the black and joining the Night's Watch. All of the Stark children had pet direwolves, found as pups after Eddard had beheaded a deserter from the Watch (babbling nonsense about seeing the Others beyond the Wall), and these accompanied them to their respective destinations.

The original mass-market US paperback of Thrones. Art by Stephen Youll.

Meanwhile, in the Free City of Pentos, the wealthy merchant lord Illyrio Mopatis and the exiled Beggar King, Viserys Targaryen, conspired to return the Targaryens to the Iron Throne. They arranged for Viserys' younger sister Daenerys to marry Khal Drogo, the warlord or khal of a Dothraki khalasar, a horde of forty thousand warriors. In return, Drogo would support Viserys' play for the Iron Throne. But before that could be done, Dothraki custom demanded that Drogo return to Vaes Dothrak with his new bride and present her to the old crones of the city for their blessing. This involved a long journey eastwards through the Free Cities, the Forest of Qohor and the vast grass-steppes of the Dothraki sea. Viserys and Daenerys were joined on this journey by Ser Jorah Mormont, an exiled knight of Westeros who had sworn loyalty to Viserys. Viserys chafed at the slow pace of the journey, the fact that he was heading in the wrong direction, and most of all at his sister's growing pride and independence in her new position of power and authority. Eventually, Viserys' arrogance proved too much and ended with Khal Drogo upending a pot of molten gold over his head, killing him.

Eddard and the royal party made their way slowly south, delayed by the queen's ridiculously huge and slow wheel-carriage. At Castle Darry, there was an altercation between Arya and Joffrey when he found her practicing at swordplay with a butcher's son, Myach. The incident ended with Joffrey's hand being bitten by Arya's direwolf, Nymeria, and his sword being thrown in the river. Arya drove Nymeria off, knowing that she'd be punished, so the queen suggested that Sansa's direwolf, Lady, be killed instead, to Sansa's fury. Sandor Clegane, Joffrey's sworn sword and bodyguard, killed Mycah as well, earning Arya's enmity.

Back in Winterfell, an assassin armed with an elaborate dagger tried to kill the crippled Bran, and was only stopped by the intervention of Catelyn and Bran's direwolf, Summer. Examining the dagger, Catelyn and her advisors realised that it was an ornate and unique weapon. By tracking down its owner, they may get a clue to the identity of the people who wanted Bran dead. Catelyn set out for King's Landing by sea to bring Eddard this news.

The royal party pressed on to King's Landing, where Eddard found a den of vipers waiting for him. Between the king's spymaster, the eunuch Varys, and his master of coin, Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish, and their intrigues, Eddard did not know who to trust. This indecision was solved when Catelyn, who had beaten him to the city, put her trust in Littlefinger, an old childhood friend. Littlefinger confirmed that the dagger belonged to Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, the deformed and misshapen younger brother of Cersei and Jaime. Tyrion had travelled to Winterfell with the rest of the royal party, but had elected to go north to see the Wall before returning to the capital.

At the Wall, Jon Snow found that the Night's Watch consisted mostly of criminals, rapists and thieves who had chosen the Wall over castration or having a hand cut off. A few good men were to be found, but for the most part it was a harsh, old institution whose glory days had long passed. Tyrion warned Jon Snow this would be the case, but he had not listened. Nevertheless, Tyrion's advice enabled Jon to make friends with some of the other recruits and make a good impression on Maester Aemon and Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, though it also earned him the enmity of the trainer of new recruits, Ser Alliser Thorne. Tyrion left to return to King's Landing, and soon after a new recruit, Samwell Tarly, arrived at the Wall. A fat, soft, southern boy from the Reach, Sam was easy prey for Thorne and his cruel jibes, but Jon helped him survive.

Meanwhile, Robert Baratheon had learned of Daenerys Targaryen's wedding and that she had subsequently become pregnant. He ordered that an assassin be sent to kill her, to Eddard's disgust. The assassin caught up with Daenerys in Vaes Dothrak and tried to poison her, but he was exposed by Ser Jorah Mormont (actually a spy for Varys, but one who had started to develop some loyalty towards Daenerys due to her courage). Due to this attempt on his wife and unborn son's lives, Khal Drogo flew into a rage and swore an oath to lead his khalasar to the Seven Kingdoms and conquer the realm for his son.

Elsewhere in the capital the king's youngest brother, Renly Baratheon, was intriguing against the Lannisters, whom he despised. Renly's plan was for Robert to put aside Cersei and marry the sister of his best friend (and lover) Ser Loras Tyrell. Lord Mace Tyrell had already agreed to back the scheme with his vast army should the Lannisters object.

Departing King's Landing, Catelyn was in the Crossroads Inn when Tyrion happened to arrive. Acting on instinct, Catelyn called upon several knights sworn to her father's bannermen, as well as some sellswords, to help her take Tyrion prisoner. She loudly announced that she was taking him north to Winterfell to await the king's justice, but instead took him east into the Vale of Arryn, to her sister Lysa's seat at the Eyrie. At the Eyrie Catelyn found her sister in the grip of paranoid fear that people meant to harm her son Robert. They put Tyrion on trial, but Tyrion claimed trial by battle to prove his innocence. One of the sellswords, Bronn, agreed to take Tyrion's part, and defeated Lysa's champion, Ser Vardis Egen. Lysa turned them both out, not expecting them to survive an unescorted journey through the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon, where hostile tribesmen roamed. However, Tyrion was able to convince the mountain clans that House Lannister could be a powerful ally and gained a strong escort back into the Riverlands.

Back in King's Landing, Eddard set out on the same trail as Jon Arryn and Stannis Baratheon, finding several of Robert's bastards and a dull book on the history and lineages of the great houses. News of Catelyn's arrest of Tyrion reached the city and Jaime Lannister had his guardsmen severely wound Eddard and kill several of his bodyguards before fleeing the city. Eddard's attempts to bring Jaime to justice were stymied by Robert, who demanded peace between the two houses. Robert then took off on a long boar hunt in the Kingswood, expecting the situation to be rectified by the time he returned. Instead, at Casterly Rock Lord Tywin called his banners, summoned a large army, and began moving towards the Riverlands, sending his ferocious knight, Ser Gregor Clegane, ahead to cause as much chaos as possible. When news of this reached Eddard, he commanded a young lord from the Dornish Marches, Beric Dondarrion, to take a strong force to arrest Gregor Clegane.

The current UK cover of Thrones, art by Larry Rostant.

Due to a chance remark by Sansa, Eddard realised that no previous Baratheon-Lannister pairing had produced blonde children. He confronted Cersei, who confirmed his suspicions: the three children were all Jaime's. Eddard gave her a chance to flee before Robert returned, but Cersei did not take him up on the offer. When Robert did return, it was on his back: his squire, Lancel Lannister, he given him too much wine and he'd been gored by the boar. As he lay dying, Robert named Eddard as Lord Protector of the Realm, to rule until his heir came of age. Robert's youngest brother, Renly, urged Eddard to strike and imprison Cersei and her children before it was too late, but Eddard refused. Renly fled the city, his own plan for Robert to marry Margaery Tyrell in tatters and his own personal safety in question.

Robert passed away, and immediately Cersei put Joffrey on the Iron Throne. Eddard presented his warrant to serve as Lord Protector, but Cersei tore it up. Eddard, having used to Littlefinger to buy the loyalty of the City Watch's commander, Janos Slynt, moved to have Cersei and Joffrey arrested, but Littlefinger and Slynt betrayed him. The remaining Stark guards were killed and Eddard was taken into custody. Sansa was likewise held, but Arya managed to escape onto the streets of the city.

With Eddard a prisoner, Robb Stark called the banners of the North and led a signficiant army south. At Moat Cailin, he was joined by his mother, Catelyn. They debated strategy: Tywin Lannister had invaded the Riverlands in force, leaving half his army under Jaime to invest Riverrun and leading the rest to the Trident to stop Robb from advancing on King's Landing. After some discussion, Robb decided to also split his army in half. He ordered Lord Roose Bolton, a Northern lord of sinister repute, to lead his footmen to engage Tywin, whilst he would ride hard for Riverrun with his cavalry. This required getting across the Green Fork of the Trident. The only crossing was at the Twins, held by House Frey, bannermen to the Tullys but of dubious loyalty. Catelyn won the Freys to Robb's cause by promising his hand in marriage to one of Lord Walder Frey's offspring.

Tyrion Lannister descended from the mountains with his clan warriors and joined Tywin's host. Tywin placed Tyrion and his wildmen in the vanguard with Gregor Clegane, thinking that they would break and set up a trap for the Starks that Tywin's pikemen could exploit. As it stood, the wildemen held their line. During the engagement - the Battle of the Green Fork - Roose Bolton held his lines and his nerve and was able to retreat in good order once the Lannisters gained the upper hand. Tywin was initially pleased with the victory, but furious once he learned that he had been deceived.

In King's Landing, Eddard was aghast to hear that Robb was leading an army into battle. Varys, claiming to serve the realm and to serve peace, asked Eddard to falsely confess to treason. In return for this he would be allowed to take the black and join the Night's Watch, whilst Sansa would be left unharmed. Eddard reluctantly agreed and, on the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor, made his false confession. Joffrey, wanting to give the crowd a show, betrayed the agreement and ordered that Eddard be beheaded.

On the Wall, Jon Snow saved the life of Lord Commander Mormont from a wight, a dead ranger that had risen in the night. Mormont, hearing reports of the wildlings gathering in vast numbers in the far north, decided that he would not wait meekly for the winter to come. Instead, he planned to lead the Night's Watch in force against the Others, the wildlings and whatever else was out there. Jon, despite being tempted to join Robb's war, agreed to serve this cause.

The Stark army won a great double-pronged victory over the Lannisters. At the Whispering Wood, they lured Jaime Lannister and a small detachment of his army into a trap, and Jaime was captured. Then the Stark army, aided by forces of the Riverlands, smashed the Lannister siege of Riverrun. A small Lannister force retreated to the border with the Westerlands in good order, but the damage was done. Riverrun opened its gates and the forces loyal to Lord Hoster Tully joined forces with the Starks. When word of Eddard's death reached them, along with the news that Renly had been crowned King of the Seven Kingdoms in Highgarden, they debated what to do next, about whether to declare for Renly or wait to see what Stannis, Robert's true heir would do. In the end, they decided against being ruled from the south any further. Both the northern and river lords declared Robb Stark the King in the North, and swore their fealty to him.

Khal Drogo's army moved south-east to Lhazar, the land of the lamb-men, where Drogo planned to take many slaves to sell in Slaver's Bay to fund the crossing to Westeros. However, Drogo took a wound in battle which festered. Daenerys asked a local healer, Mirri Maz Duur, to aid Drogo in return for sparing her life. Duur agreed...but her ministrations left Drogo a vegetable, his khalasar scattered in civil conflict and Daenerys childless, her son stillborn. Furious, Daenerys smothered Drogo, tied Duur to his funeral pyre, and burned them both. On a whim Daenerys put three old dragon eggs - gifts from Illyrio in Pentos - on the pyre, and stepped into the flames herself. Once the fire and ashes cleared, Daenerys was revealed unharmed...along with three dragon hatchlings, the first seen anywhere in the world for a century and a half.

The Meisha Merlin limited edition of A Clash of Kings, art by the godlike John Howe.

A Clash of Kings
On the island of Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon, the younger brother of the late King Robert and the older brother of Lord Renly, claimed the Iron Throne of Westeros, sending a letter to every lord in the Seven Kingdoms claiming that Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen were bastards born of incest and treachery. He called his banners and his fleet, but he was stymied by the tactical situation: he controlled the sea lanes around the capital but his actual army was tiny, only a few thousand, not enough to assault King's Landing. In addition Stannis had the problem of dealing with his younger brother in Highgarden, who had won all of the Reach and the Stormlands to his cause, giving him an army almost as large as the Lannisters and Starks combined. Stannis had a new advisor, a red priest of R'hllor named Melisandre, who could see certain things in her flames. At her suggestion, Stannis moved his fleet and army south to besiege his own ancestral castle at Storm's End, now loyal to Renly.

Meanwhile, Tyrion arrived in King's Landing and set to putting things right. He removed Slynt, who had been made Lord of Harrenhal, and sent him to the Wall, instead placing the City Watch under the command of a steadier officer. Tyrion also won the assistance of Varys, keeping Littlefinger wisely at arm's length. With the city vulnerable to Renly's army, which had begun slowly marching on the capital, Tyrion set about organising a defence. He had a chain built to seal off the mouth of the Blackwater Rush and fortified the city in earnest. He also began shoring up political alliances, and in a bold move won the allegiance of Dorne by promising the hand of Princess Myrcella to Prince Trystane Martell.

The original UK cover of A Clash of Kings, art by Jim Burns.

On the battlefront, Tywin Lannister had retreated to Harrenhal, leaving his army centrally placed to move against either Robb or Renly, as the situation demanded. Robb wanted Tywin to come west, allowing Renly to attack King's Landing unimpeded, so Robb led his army into the Westerlands, assaulting a whole string of castles loyal to the Lannisters. With the Stark army doing tremendous damage to the homeland of the Lannisters and their vassals, Tywin was forced to appease his lords by leading his army in pursuit. Unfortunately, Robb had not informed his uncle Edmure, who was holding Riverrun, of the plan. Edmure led a stalwart defence of the fords over the Red Fork that the Lannisters needed to cross to get home, and repulsed the attack.

Arya Stark had managed to escape from King's Landing with a band of Night's Watch recruits gathered by Yoren, but Yoren was killed in an altercation on the shores of Gods Eye. Arya and her cohorts were escorted to Harrenhal and forced to serve the Lannisters as servants. Once Tywin had departed, Roose Bolton led the rest of the Stark host down and occupied the castle. Arya pondered revealing her true identity, but Roose's odd manner and sinister reputation convined her to keep her head down. Another one of the ex-recuits, a Lorathi named Jaqen H'Ghar, turned out to be a Faceless Man, one of a sect of assassins who were capable of changing his appearance at will. H'Ghar helped Arya escape from Harrenhal, and she began making her way towards Riverrun.

The original US cover art for Kings. Art by Stephen Youll.

In the North, the lands had been left almost defenceless after Robb Stark had led his army south. Lord Balon Greyjoy took advantage of this, declaring himself King of the Iron Islands once again. Theon Greyjoy had returned to him as a messenger from Robb proposing an alliance, but Balon disdained such a notion. Instead, he commanded Theon, his daughter Asha and several loyal warriors to raid heavily along the coast of the North and then strike inland to seize Moat Cailin, Torrhen's Squre and Deepwood Motte. This was successful, but Theon modified the plan. He took another forces and managed to capture the under-defended castle of Winterfell itself. Foolishly, he tried to hang onto his prize despite it being militarily untenable as the other lords gathered more troops to repulse him. The situation worsened when Rickon and Bran Stark attempted to escape the castle and Theon executed them...though in reality he had let them go and killed two other children instead. The other Northern lords were suddenly attacked by the forces of House Bolton, led by Roose's bastard son Ramsay. Theon opened the gates in gratitude, only for Ramsay to take him prisoner and order the castle burned.

In the south, Renly's army abruptly veered off eastwards to meet the threat of Stannis. Renly and Stannis met under a flag of truce, adjudicated by Catelyn Stark, who had travelled south to try to arrange an alliance between Robb and the Baratheons. The talks came to nothing, and it looked like Renly was poised for a famous victory...until, at Melisandre's command, the very shadows in Renly's tent came alive and killed him. Catelyn and one of Renly's 'Rainbow Guard', a female warrior named Brienne of Tarth, were the only ones present when Renly died, so they were blamed for the murder. They fled, and managed to escape all the way back to Riverrun.

Upon Renly's death, the storm lords went over to Stannis, who almost immediately began marching on the capital, but in King's Landing Tyrion saw an opportunity. Renly had had to leave most of the Reach lords behind in his determination to get to Storm's End. Tyrion sent Littlefinger to treat with Lord Mace Tyrell, who was no friend to Stannis (during Robert's Rebellion, Mace had besieged Stannis in Storm's End for a year). Littlefinger suggested that Joffrey could marry Margaery Tyrell in Renly's stead, and Mace Tyrell agreed. When word of this reached Tywin, he marched his army south to the headwaters of the Blackwater Rush and used boats to transport his army down to the capital.

The current UK cover of Kings, art by Larry Rostant.

This resulted in the Battle of the Blackwater. Stannis' fleet assaulted the city from the bay and river, whilst his army began making plans to cross the river. Tyrion had placed wildfire barrels under the waterline, and once Stannis' fleet was fully committed Tyrion released the wildfire and lifted the chain. The resulted in the near-annihilation of Stannis' fleet as it was trapped in the river. Unfortunately, what looked like a significant victory came close to turning to defeat when Stannis' army started using the resulting wreckage as a bridge to cross the river. Tyrion himself led a sortie to repulse the attack, but was badly injured in the process. Still, Tyrion's actions had given Mace Tyrell and Tywin Lannister enough time to gather their forces and hit Stannis' army in the flank. Though Stannis and some troops managed to escape by sea, the bulk of his army was defeated and surrendered.

Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen, her newly-hatched dragons and the few remnants of the Drogo's khalasar who had remained behind, journeyed south and east across the forbidding Red Waste, eventually coming out of the far side near the great city of Qarth, which guarded the straits into the Jade Sea. The Qartheen feted Daenerys and treated her well, but the city's merchant lords were greedy for her dragons. Daenerys decided to seek the advice of the Warlocks of Qarth at the House of the Undying, and was left battered by a bemusing series of visions (including of a man with a wolf's head, and a vision of her brother Rhaegar and his wife Elia cooing over their son Aegon and Rhaegar saying, "The dragon has three heads," and "His is the song of ice and fire,"). Her dragons burned the House of the Undying down. Aware that she had outstayed her welcome in the city, Daenerys was assisted by the timely arrival of two warriors sent by Illyrio to escort her home: a eunuch warrior named Strong Belwas, and an old warrior of Westeros, Ser Arstan Whitebeard (who is really Ser Barristan Selmy, former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, forcibly retired on Cersei's orders). They took ship for Pentos.

Beyond the Wall, the forces of the Night's Watch advanced to the Fist of the First Men, an old hill fort abandoned thousands of years ago. From there, Mormont sent a scouting force led by Qhorin Halfhand and also including Jon Snow to reconnitor the Skirling Pass. There they were cornered by a wildling raiding party. Qhorin sacrificed his life, letting Jon kill him so Jon could pose as a turncloak and learn the wildlings' true plans. The wildlings bought the deception (mainly due to a young woman, Ygritte, who had taken a shine to Snow) and decided to bring Jon Snow before the King-beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder, to prove his worth.

That covers the first two books in the series. The next one will cover Storm and Crows and hopefully bring us up to date.