All right, I had meant to save this for next weekend when I go out of town and have a four-hour car ride each direction. But it's a thousand pages in paperback, so I think I'll have plenty left by then.
Prologue (Maester Cressen): So now we finally get to see what's going on with Stannis after having it shrouded in mystery for all of AGOT. Cresen has official confirmation that summer is ending in the form of a white raven. Not just an albino, but a raven that was bred to be white. Special bird. I fee sorry for Shireen, and I hope there are good things in store for her. The rest of the family I don't care for as much. Lady Selyse is an annoying, preachy woman who doesn't seem to understand how fighting a war works. I think she'd be right at home in the American Bible Belt, from her attitude concerning her new god R'hllor. Stannis, according to what we have learned from both him and Davos, is having trouble convincing people to declare for him. What Stannis seems to have trouble understanding is that he is very bad when it comes to being an inspiring leader. He seems convinced that because his case for the throne is right and just, then that should be all he needs to get everyone on his side. Having a just cause is useless when others in the fray (Cersei, for one) are motivated by greed, avarice, and a lust for power. Plus, Stannis is just such a sourpuss that no one likes him enough to follow him. Davos himself is a good example of what's wrong here. The chapter mentions how Davos, as a smuggler, once saved Stannis's bacon by sneaking food through a siege at Storm's End. Stannis knighted him, gave him a keep, and some good lands... and then chopped off the first joint on four fingers for smuggling. With friends like this, who needs enemies? Why should anyone declare for a man who maims his saviors? It was because Davos was a smuggler that he pulled this off, right? Then we see Cressen working to kill Melisandre. Her blathering about R'hllor was annoying too, but she can back it up. Pylos is the new Maester for Dragonstone. I bet Selyse and Melisandre were behind that decision. Pylos himself probably had a hand in his own promotion, too. And R'hllor does have some power! We've seen magic before, but this is the first real sign of any of the gods being more than stories. Not only does he make Melisandre immune to the poison, but she is aware the wine is poisoned to begin with. Although Cressen was a bit obvious, I thought, you don't need a god on your side to figure out what he is up to.
One thing this chapter did for me was to solidify something I'd been suspecting though much of the first book. Stannis is referred to repeatedly, by himself and others, as the rightful king. Now remember Ned's letter to Stannis, the one that informed him he was the rightful king and invited him down to King's Landing to take the throne for himself? The one that never got delivered and was used as evidence against Ned? Ned's letter was totally unnecessary; Stannis already knew he was the rightful king. Why else would Jon Arryn be taking him to meet Gendry, and taking him to all those brothels? Arryn discovered that Joff was illegitimate, and showed the one person (other than Robert) who most needed to know.
Chapter 1 (Arya I): Arya's alive! I thought she seemed a goner after what happened with Yoren in her last chapter in AGOT. Now it looks like Yoren was saving her life. He's chopped her hair off and has gotten her out of the city. She had been having some trouble getting out of the city, you may recall. But it isn't all that pleasant traveling with Yoren, thanks to the other Watch recruits he's taken from the dungeons. Arya knows how to stick up for herself, and the boy with the bull's head helmet is willing to stick up for her. (Gendry??!!) Yoren disciplines her; just cause he is saving her life doesn't mean he's willing to have the boys fighting. I hope he disciplined the other boys too, or did something to send a message that. Their teasing is causing just as much of a ruckus. Yoren has told Arya he will stop at Winterfell en route to the Wall, and let her slip away there, with no one in his party having a clue. I have some doubt as to how honest he is being there.