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The Walter Whites of Fantasy

Some fantasy protagonists aren’t in the hero business, they’re in the EMPIRE business.

AMC’s Breaking Bad set the gold standard for protagonist turned antagonist with Walter White, the dopey science teacher turned criminal mastermind slash violent drug lord (which I’m pretty sure is what his business card said, or would say, if criminal masterminds slash violent drug lords had business cards).

But the fantasy genre has plenty of Walter Whites as well. Though they may not run a meth lab out of the back of an RV, they’ve betrayed just as many of their closest friends, and caused just as many explosions. Here’s a run-down of some of our favorites, who either turned from good/neutral to evil throughout a book series, or villains who were revealed to have gone through such a transformation before the main story started (Walter Whites of their own narratives).

As you can imagine, this post will have some mild spoilers, but we’ve done our best to keep them as light as possible. Unlike these characters’ misdeeds.

By Julia Bergen


Poster Placeholder of - 13Baru Cormorant, from The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Baru starts out even more innocent than Walter White did, and though the series isn’t finished yet, she’s well on her way to becoming even more brutal. The series begins with Baru as a happy child who has faced little adversity, living in a picturesque sea-side village with her mother and two fathers. When an empire shows up, kills one of her fathers, and starts a harsh rule that outlaws the most important parts of Bau’s life, she vows to rise up within the empire’s ranks and bring them down from within. What sets Baru apart from most fantasy characters with this same goal is that she is forced to do some truly awful things and changes as a person because of them. By the time this series is over, it seems likely she will have no problem busting out the ricin poison.

Place holder  of - 3Daenerys Targaryen, from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

To be fair, I’m basing this from the TV series since the book series hasn’t finished Daenery’s story, but even in the books you can start to see Martin setting Daenerys up to go full Walter White. Getting what you want by fire and blood doesn’t generally end in a tea party. Daenerys starts out as a teenage girl living in exile, married off for political reasons, who just wants to live a safe, happy life. Throughout the events of the books, we see her come into her own power, first becoming the leader of a Dothraki army, then queen of the city of Meereen. Along the way she executes many, often using her dragons, and though her victims generally deserve it, it’s easy to see how burning people alive when necessary could get out of hand fast. If Daenerys thought letting someone choke on their own vomit would be for the greater good, she would totally do it.

Image Placeholder of - 50Holland Vosijk, from the Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab

Oh, Holland. He’s had such a hard life. He starts out as the main antagonist of A Darker Shade of Magic, but throughout the trilogy we learn so much more about his backstory, and how his actions were not always within his control. As the series goes on, details of Holland’s life before his ill-fated meeting with the Dane siblings reveal that he used to be optimistic and kind-hearted, even on the cruel streets of White London. He does get something of a redemption, but that just makes him even more like Walter White (if you accept that the last few episodes weren’t a dream). Still, he does a lot of genuinely evil things, and happily lets other people die if it means getting what he wants.

Placeholder of  -78The Lord Ruler, from the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

When we meet The Lord Ruler he’s in his final Walter White mega-evil phase. He’s a brutal king, using harsh punishments to prop up the noble houses and keep everyone else destitute. However, throughout the series it turns out that some of the things The Lord Ruler had done had actually been part of a much larger conflict between forces older than history. And he hadn’t always been a vicious dictator. At the beginning, he had wanted to save the world, but that came at a price he couldn’t imagine. The Lord Ruler may have actually been more vicious than Walter White, though part of that was supernatural forces upping his evil quotient.

Image Place holder  of - 67The King in Red, from The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone

The King in Red definitely paints a more evil image than Walter White – it’s hard to imagine something more menacing than a skeleton in a red cloak, especially one with the ability to create a dragon fueled by the souls of his debtors, even if Bryan Cranston did master the evil glare. The King in Red wasn’t always a heartless overlord, though. The books heavily imply that once he was just a powerful craftsman in loving relationship. It wasn’t until the gods killed his boyfriend that he became obsessed with destroying them, and then once that was basically fully accomplished, ruling in their place. The King in Red would definitely agree that he’s in the empire business.

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7 Fantasy Novels Featuring Poison

Fantasy novels are full of swords and magic, knights and wizards. There are large scale battles, individual duels, and assassins galore. One weapon that doesn’t turn up nearly as often as it should, at least in our opinion, is poison. Luckily, when it does turn up, it tends to be in dramatic ways, as demonstrated by these 7 novels.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Placeholder of  -48 “I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.” That’s the opening line to Sam Hawke’s debut fantasy novel City of Lies, a story of family, treachery, war, and, of course, poison. Jovan, our hero, is the quiet best friend of the Chancellor’s heir, destined to always be a step behind his friend—because that’s the best place to protect him. Jovan is a proofer, trained in identifying and countering poisons. And, of course, using them if necessary. When the Chancellor is murdered by an unknown poison, it will take all of Jovan’s art to keep the impulsive heir alive while they try to unravel the mystery.

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Image Place holder  of - 94 A true classic of epic fantasy, Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy is full of magic, violence, and, naturally, poison. FitzChivalry Farseer was born a royal bastard, and is taken in by the royal family so that they can train him to be useful to them—primarily as an assassin. One of the tools in Fitz’s arsenal is poison: deadroot, death angel mushrooms, and nightmist are three of the particularly deadly poisons that show up in the series. Hobb is a masterful writer, and as Fitz learns his craft and begins to use it (and have it used against him) readers will fall in love with his earnest desire to please his royal family.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Place holder  of - 50 One of the most famous poisons in fantasy history—both in books and movies—has to be iocaine powder. In one of our favorite scenes in Goldman’s novel, the man in black outwits Vizzini with a rigged psychological game, challenging Vizzini to guess which cup of wine contains the iocaine poison. Of course, we all know both cups were in fact poisoned, but our handsome man in black has built up an immunity to iocaine powder. That’s only one element of this classic fantasy novel, of course (“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”), but it’s one of our favorites.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Image Placeholder of - 62 “Three dark queens are born in a glen, sweet little triplets that will never be friends…” because one is destined to kill the other two and claim the crown. That’s the setup for Kendare Blake’s dark novel, featuring three sisters who each have a particular skill or power. Katharine, one of the sisters, is supposed to be a poisoner, immune to any and all poisons. When we meet her, her ability hasn’t manifested yet, so her guardians try to build up her immunity the old fashioned way: by feeding her small amounts of deadly poisons, leaving her physically frail. Will Katharine’s ability ever manifest? And, more importantly, which of the sisters is strong enough to become queen?

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Poster Placeholder of - 15 The previous proofers and taste testers in this list have been volunteers or born with natural abilities, but that’s not the case in Maria V. Snyder’s series. Our heroine, Yelena, is an admitted, convicted murderer, who is offered the position of taste tester to the Commander of Ixia only because no one cares if she dies. Luckily, Yelena is strong and, more importantly, has a great palette—she learns how to identify poisons quickly and accurately, and twice survives attacks using the nearly-always-fatal poison My Love. Navigating the politics of life in Ixia is hard enough, but when you’re constantly having to ingest poisons on top of it? Let’s just say that while we love reading about Yelena, we definitely don’t want her life.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

In George R. R. Martin’s epic series, poison turns up fairly often, and sometimes in incredibly dramatic fashion. It’s definitely the weapon of choice for many of the women in the series. We see King Joffrey violently murdered with a poison called The Strangler, which causes him to choke and suffocate, dying quickly and very, very publicly. It’s discovered that Lysa Arryn used the Tears of Lys, a slow-acting poison, to kill her husband Jon. The HBO show even decided to up the poison factor, including a poison called The Long Farewell, which is used by Ellaria Sand to poison Myrcella Baratheon–which, of course, causes Myrcella’s mother Cersei to use the same poison to kill Ellaria’s daughter in revenge. With so many poisonings, it’s a good thing the series has a massive cast of characters, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone left at this point!

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Poison plays a smaller role in Kai Ashante Wilson’s novella than in the previous books on this list, but we wanted to include it because it shows an interesting side of poison that many fantasy novels don’t touch on–the fact that poisons aren’t, in fact, all bad. Many even have medical benefits and are only lethal in large doses. In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, one of the characteristics that makes our protagonist Demane a demigod is that he secretes poison from his skin. He uses that poison, in small doses of course, as an anaesthetic in his unofficial role as medic to a band of mercenaries. A lot of dangerous things have a good side if used carefully!

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Villains You’ll Love to Root For

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to read about the farm boy turned chosen one. Sometimes the idea of a Hero’s Journey bores you to tears. Thankfully, not all genre fiction is quite so black and white, with good triumphing over evil. If you’re in the mood for a book with more shades of gray, we have a list of villains you’ll absolutely love to root for:

Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Image Placeholder of - 29 Everybody loves a good supervillain, and Victor Vale certainly seems to fit the bill. Ten years after a terrible accident tore Victor and his best friend Eli apart, Victor is out of prison and out for revenge. But while the world sees Eli as a virtuous hero and Victor as his dangerous nemesis, the truth is that things might not be so clear cut. If you’re a fan of moral ambiguity and villains who just might be a little right, you’ll love Victor.

Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee

Place holder  of - 93 Bells Broussard always assumed he was going to be a hero…until he discovered a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, and suddenly he and his friends are being framed as villains. Sometimes doing the right thing is just plain stupid, and Bells is the perfect example of that. He wants to save the world, but in the second book in C. B. Lee’s Sidekick Squad series, Bells realizes that the only way to do that might be to do some evil first. Can you do right by doing wrong? Bells and his friends will find out!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Image Place holder  of - 15 Was the Wicked Witch of the West really wicked, or was she just misunderstood? We all know Dorothy’s side of the story from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but now we know Elphaba’s story too. Maguire’s novel portrays the famous Wicked Witch of the West as a smart and prickly girl whose life is one of tragedy and horror. Every story has two sides, and now that we’ve read Elphaba’s, we kind of agree with the sentiment behind “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”

A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

Placeholder of  -51 There are no men in all of Westeros who are as revered and reviled as Jaime Lannister. If history is told by the winners, you’d think the Lannisters’ publicity team would do a better job spinning Jaime’s much-maligned murder of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen as an act of heroism to protect King’s Landing from a wildfire explosion. But, alas, Jaime is forever known as The Kingslayer and few trust his vows, even when he tries to be good. The fact that readers still root for Jaime after he pushed an eight-year-old out of a window is a testament to Martin’s skill at creating complex, compelling characters. If Brienne believes in Jaime, then so do we.

Trouble on Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Poster Placeholder of - 48 Okay, so Bron Helstrom isn’t exactly a villain. But in Delany’s 1976 meditation on utopia, Bron’s definitely not a good guy, either. In fact, he’s incredibly self-absorbed, with little care for the feelings or experiences of those around him. He’s constantly dissatisfied, even though he lives on a world where everything he wants is available to him. As Bron becomes involved in a disastrous relationship with the brilliant Spike, you can’t help rooting for things to turn out alright—even though you know there’s no way that’s going to happen.

I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Much like Dexter Morgan before him, teenage sociopath John Cleaver finds a different outlet for his disturbing homicidal urges: demon hunting. Is John delusional, or is he evil? Or is his neighbor really a supernatural creature of the worst kind? It’s a battle between inner demons and actual demons in this series from Dan Wells, and readers are forced to side with a character who would be a villain in any other book.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

If it’s at all possible to love a demon, we love Crowley. Originally Crawly, the serpent who tempted Eve with the apple, the evolved Crowley knows how to mix and mingle with humanity—and how to tempt them to do evil. He’s an agent of evil, with one exception: he doesn’t actually want the world to end. As heaven and hell gear up for the end times in Pratchett and Gaiman’s masterful team-up Good Omens, Crowley proves that even villains can have depth. He and his counterpart, the angel Aziraphale, will do their damndest to keep the world running smoothly.

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Deadly Sibling Rivalries in Fantasy

Siblings are often the best part of growing up—they’re usually someone you know you can count on, someone who will have your back even as they’re making fun of you. But sometimes siblings can be dangerous, even deadly. We love a good story about sibling rivalries gone vicious! Here are some of our favorites:

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

Placeholder of  -98 Tessa Gratton’s fresh take on the story of King Lear revolves around the relationships of three sisters struggling for control of their father’s failing kingdom: Gaela, Regan, and Elia. The eldest, Gaela, pursues martial control; her sister Regan seeks to restore the ancient religious rites long forbidden by her father. Elia stands between them, resented by her older sisters. As tensions rise among this fractured family, the conflict between the three begins to take a deadly toll on the island of Lear itself.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

Poster Placeholder of - 20 There are plenty of contentious—and outright murderous—relationships between family members in the A Song of Ice and Fire series: Tyrion and Cersei, Catelyn and Lysa, Daenerys and Viserys. Perhaps one of the most consequential for the fate of Westeros, however, is the rivalry between Renly and Stannis Baratheon, both of whom become contenders for the throne in the wake of their brother’s death. Their rivalry leads them close to outright war between brothers.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Image Place holder  of - 24 There’s no conflict quite like that between half-brothers—especially when one is illegitimate and kept hidden from the other. That’s the setup between Zane and Elend Venture in The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. While Elend was raised in comfort as the heir, Zane, one of few full Mistborns in the world, was raised as a weapon. Zane is definitely an unstable individual, so of course he wants to kill his half-brother. Standing in his way is Vin, the heroine of Sanderson’s series and a powerful Mistborn in her own right. Zane was robbed of a normal childhood, but readers win when Zane and Vin face off, with Elend in between.

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Image Placeholder of - 20 If there’s one thing we’ve learned from reading, it’s never to trust ambitious younger siblings. Regal in the Farseer Trilogy is no exception: he seeks to position himself as the heir to the aging king, establishing a rivalry with his older brother Verity—and he just might have plotted the pre-series murder of FitzChivalry’s father.
 
 
 
Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

Place holder  of - 42 Like A Song of Ice and Fire, Steven Erikson’s epic series has plenty of siblings who really (really, really) don’t get along. From a pair of sisters who find themselves on opposite sides of a rebellion, to nearly-immortal brothers who can barely be on the same continent, being someone’s brother or sister is as likely to be a guarantee of violent conflict as it is to be a source of familial love.

And you thought your family didn’t get along.

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny’s classic series follows “shadow-walkers” who can move through parallel worlds. The ability belongs only to those of royal blood, descendants of the mad sorcerer Dworkin Barimen. Of those with the ability, there’s a lot of in-fighting—much of it deadly as the various family members try to take the throne from Oberon, the liege lord of Amber. Before the story even begins, Oberon’s sons Osric and Finndo supposedly conspired against their father, were caught, and sent to the front lines of a war from which they never return. The scheming and conspiracies only get worse from there.

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley

Few fantasy sibs get their ​wires crossed as badly as the Malkeenians of Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Separated by vast distances in the middle of a massive conspiracy to topple their murdered father’s empire, Kaden, Adare, and Valyn each do their best to survive the crisis and fight back against the conspiracy, only to end up in deadly conflict against one another. We mean, Let’s hug this out, and just ignore these knives I’m holding kinds of conflict.

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Books to Fill the Long Wait Until the Final Season of Game of Thrones

Season 7 of Game of Thrones went out with a bang. The final season may air in 2018, but we may also have to wait until 2019 to see how everything is going to wrap up. So what are we going to do in the meantime? Read, of course! We asked our fellow Tor employees what books they would recommend for Game of Thrones fans, and they came through in a big way. In no particular order, here’s a reading list with enough books to keep you busy until 2019 (unless you’re a speed reader).

Placeholder of  -29 Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
The Malazan series is big, sprawling, nihilistic epic fantasy perfect for a Game of Thrones fan. The series is complete, so there’s no waiting for the next book. Start with book one, Gardens of the Moon, or pick up the entire 7,392 page series as an ebook bundle: The Complete Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Recommended by Christopher Morgan, Associate Editor

Place holder  of - 99 The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
Is your favorite part of Game of Thrones watching the Stark children try to survive in the wake of their father’s death? Try The Emperor’s Blades, the first novel in the epic fantasy Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. The story focuses on the three children of a slain emperor as they battle conspiracies, meddlesome gods, and each other, in the struggle to hold their empire together.
Recommended by Marco Palmieri, Senior Editor

Image Place holder  of - 73 The Black Company by Glen Cook
If you’re a fan of the fact that no one is safe on GoT, try this one. Released in 1984, The Black Company is arguably the reason GrimDark became a thing. Think of it as Game of Thrones from the view of the infantry. The story follows a band of mercenaries as they struggle to survive lose-lose situations.
Recommended by Robert Davis, Manager of Administration, and Christopher Morgan, Associate Editor

Poster Placeholder of - 5 Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
If Arya had ended up meeting a warrior nun instead of the Faceless Man, she and the heroine of Red Sister would be best friends. Raised in a convent of warrior, assassin nuns, Nona may be their most powerful. Dark and gritty and moving, with heroines you adore.
Recommended by Diana Gill, Executive Editor

Image Placeholder of - 1 The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Do you love conflicted characters like Jaime Lannister? Try The Traitor Baru Cormorant, a geopolitical tragedy of empire and colonization. Filled with intrigue, treachery, rebellion, weaponized economics, and a protagonist who is simultaneously the hero and villain of her own story.
Recommended by Marco Palmieri, Senior Editor, and Joseph Bendel, Channel Marketing Manager

The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick
Pazel, a war orphan, is working as a tar boy on a ship–and has to deal with magical fits that allow him to speak any language. Like Game of Thrones, there’s a lot of focus on politics, with the backdrop of magic. No dragons, sadly, but there’s a magical ferret and a rat that doesn’t know when to stop talking.
Recommended by Lauren Levite, Publicity Assistant

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Is the sheer scope of Game of Thrones your favorite part about it? Then Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series is for you. Truly epic fantasy on the grand scale, it will keep you reading (hopefully) until GRRM finishes The Winds of Winter.
Recommended by Diana Gill, Executive Editor

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is all about revenge and a battle for the throne…though there are actual gods involved. Jemisin has won back-to-back Hugo Awards and devoted fans, and you can see why in her debut effort. You won’t be disappointed.
Recommended by Diana Gill, Executive Editor

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Do you love Game of Thrones, but think it would be even better if it took place IN SPACE? Luna: New Moon is definitely for you. On the moon, corporate families attempt to outmaneuver each other. McDonald substitutes cocktails for GoT’s eel pie though.
Recommended by Christopher Morgan, Associate Editor, and Desirae Friesen, Publicist

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
If you love Dorne, the Red Viper, and the Sand Snakes, Kushiel’s Dart is for you. Imagine if Littlefinger used his courtesan spies for good! Phaedre’s journey slides the razor edge of pain and pleasure, and you will love every minute.
Recommended by Diana Gill, Executive Editor, and Theresa Delucci, Associate Director of Advertising and Promotions

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
Sure, it’s not out yet, but it will be out before the next season of Game of Thrones. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, Gratton’s epic fantasy novel features three daughters fighting for a throne as surrounding kingdoms look to prey on the island’s vulnerability. The perfect read if you’re loving the battle of the queens in GoT.
Recommended by a bunch of raccoons in a trench coat, Associate Digital Marketing Manager, and Miriam Weinberg, Senior Editor

The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin
If you just want to stay in Westeros a little while longer, let us recommend the beautifully illustrated The Ice Dragon. These ice dragons aren’t the same as what became of poor Viserion, but they’re still terrifying beasts. Read the story of the brave winter child Adara and her friend, the ice dragon.
Recommended by Cassie Ammerman, Assistant Director of Digital Marketing

Feature image courtesy of HBO

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Discover George R.R. Martin’s The Ice Dragon

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Poster Placeholder of - 76In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire the ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one. When it flew overhead, it left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land. But Adara was not afraid. For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember.

Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon. It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold. In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time. Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the North swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara’s home. And only a winter child—and the ice dragon who loved her—could save her world from utter destruction.

The Ice Dragon is an enchanting tale of courage and sacrifice for young readers and adults by the wildly popular author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin. Lavish illustrations by acclaimed artist Luis Royo enrich this captivating and heartwarming story of a young girl and her dragon. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter One: Winter’s Child

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Art by Luis Royo

Adara liked the winter best of all, for when the world grew cold the ice dragon came.

She was never quite sure whether it was the cold that brought the ice dragon or the ice dragon that brought the cold. That was the sort of question that often troubled her brother Geoff, who was two years older than her and insatiably curious, but Adara did not care about such things. So long as the cold and the snow and the ice dragon all arrived on schedule, she was happy.

She always knew when they were due because of her birthday. Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone could remember, even Old Laura, who lived on the next farm and remembered things that had happened before anyone else was born. People still talked about that freeze. Adara often heard them.

They talked about other things as well. They said it was the chill of that terrible freeze that had killed her mother, stealing in during her long night of labor past the great fire that Adara’s father had built, and creeping under the layers of blankets that covered the birthing bed. And they said that the cold had entered Adara in the womb, that her skin had been pale blue and icy to the touch when she came forth, and that she had never warmed in all the years since. The winter had touched her, left its mark upon her, and made her its own.

It was true that Adara was always a child apart. She was a very serious little girl who seldom cared to play with the others. She was beautiful, people said, but in a strange, distant sort of way, with her pale skin and blond hair and wide clear blue eyes. She smiled, but not often. No one had ever seen her cry. Once when she was five she had stepped upon a nail imbedded in a board that lay concealed beneath a snow-bank, and it had gone clear through her foot, but Adara had not wept or screamed even then. She had pulled her foot loose and walked back to the house, leaving a trail of blood in the snow, and when she had gotten there she had said only, “Father, I hurt myself.” The sulks and tempers and tears of ordinary childhood were not for her.

Even her family knew that Adara was different. Her father was a huge, gruff bear of a man who had little use for people in general, but a smile always broke across his face when Geoff pestered him with questions, and he was full of hugs and laughter for Teri, Adara’s older sister, who was golden and freckled, and flirted shamelessly with all the local boys. Every so often he would hug Adara as well, but only during the long winters. But there would be no smiles then. He would only wrap his arms around her, and pull her small body tight against him with all his massive strength, sob deep in his chest, and fat wet tears would run down his ruddy cheeks. He never hugged her at all during the summers. During the summers he was too busy.

Everyone was busy during the summers except for Adara. Geoff would work with his father in the fields and ask endless questions about this and that, learning everything a farmer had to know. When he was not working he would run with his friends to the river, and have adventures. Teri ran the house and did the cooking, and worked a bit at the inn by the crossroads during the busy season. The innkeeper’s daughter was her friend, and his youngest son was more than a friend, and she would always come back giggly and full of gossip and news from travelers and soldiers and king’s messengers. For Teri and Geoff the summers were the best time, and both of them were too busy for Adara.

Their father was the busiest of all. A thousand things needed to be done each day, and he did them, and found a thousand more. He worked from dawn to dusk. His muscles grew hard and lean in summer, and he stank from sweat each night when he came in from the fields, but he always came in smiling. After supper he would sit with Geoff and tell him stories and answer his questions, or teach Teri things she did not know about cooking, or stroll down to the inn. He was a summer man, truly.

He never drank in summer, except for a cup of wine now and again to celebrate his brother’s visits.

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Art by Luis Royo

That was another reason why Teri and Geoff loved the summers, when the world was green and hot and bursting with life. It was only in summer that Uncle Hal, their father’s younger brother, came to call. Hal was a dragonrider in service to the king, a tall slender man with a face like a noble. Dragons cannot stand the cold, so when winter fell Hal and his wing would fly south. But each summer he returned, brilliant in the king’s green-and-gold uniform, en route to the battlegrounds to the north and west of them. The war had been going on for all of Adara’s life.

Whenever Hal came north, he would bring presents; toys from the king’s city, crystal and gold jewelry, candies, and always a bottle of some expensive wine that he and his brother could share. He would grin at Teri and make her blush with his compliments, and entertain Geoff with tales of war and castles and dragons. As for Adara, he often tried to coax a smile out of her, with gifts and jests and hugs. He seldom succeeded.

For all his good nature, Adara did not like Hal; when Hal was there, it meant that winter was far away.

Besides, there had been a night when she was only four, and they thought her long asleep, that she overheard them talking over wine. “A solemn little thing,” Hal said. “You ought to be kinder to her, John. You cannot blame her for what happened.”

“Can’t I?” her father replied, his voice thick with wine. “No, I suppose not. But it is hard. She looks like Beth, but she has none of Beth’s warmth. The winter is in her, you know. Whenever I touch her I feel the chill, and I remember that it was for her that Beth had to die.”

“You are cold to her. You do not love her as you do the others.”

Adara remembered the way her father laughed then. “Love her? Ah, Hal. I loved her best of all, my little winter child. But she has never loved back. There is nothing in her for me, or you, any of us. She is such a cold little girl.” And then he had begun to weep, even though it was summer and Hal was with him. In her bed, Adara listened and wished that Hal would fly away. She did not quite understand all that she had heard, not then, but she remembered it, and the understanding came later.

She did not cry; not at four, when she heard, or six, when she finally understood. Hal left a few days later, and Geoff and Teri waved to him excitedly when his wing passed overhead, thirty great dragons in proud formation against the summer sky. Adara watched with her small hands by her sides.

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Art by Luis Royo

Copyright © 1980 by George R. R. Martin

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Ice Dragon Poster Sweepstakes

Ice Dragon Poster

We’re offering you the chance to win a poster that features the gorgeous artwork Luis Royo created for George R.R. Martin’s The Ice Dragon!

Comment below to enter for a chance to win.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 as of the date of entry. To enter, leave a comment here beginning at 10:00 AM Eastern Time (ET) October 15, 2014. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET October 21, 2014. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010. Sponsor: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

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