The ironborn come from a culture with a very strong warrior tradition -- much more so than mainland Westeros. The rest of the Seven Kingdoms have a warrior caste (the knights) on top of a larger base of peasants, farmers, craftsmen, merchants, etc. The "Old Way" of the islands encouraged almost all men (and some women, like Asha) to take up raiding, at least if they were young and healthy.
A bit of news that may interest some of you -- my editors at Bantam have decided that they =will= include a preview chapter from A STORM OF SWORDS in the U.S. paperback edition of A CLASH OF KINGS, presently scheduled for publication in September.
The chapter they have chosen in the first Sansa section in A STORM OF SWORDS, where Sansa dines with Margaery Tyrell, meets her grandmother, and hears a fat fool sing "The Bear and the Maiden Fair."
Mr. Martin, I'll venture to ask a few questions on behalf of your other mad, information-starved fans:
Do you intend to provide the more important characters with birth years? (i.e. controversies about Renly's and Edric Storm's, Benjen's and Tyrion's ages, etc). A bunch of children have their ages noted in Appendix to ACOK... But none of the adult characters, alas.
With such a large cast, it would be impossible to provide ages for everyone, and even doing just the major players would be difficult. I do try and nail it down in my own private notes where the ages are important, but in most cases it really doesn't matter whether someone is thirty three or thirty eight.
How did Ned manage to become such a paragon Northener and a close friend of Lyanna's if he spent his time in the Vale from age 8 to 18? Or did he return home at some point(when?) and was just visiting Jon Arryn prior to and after the tourney at Harrenhal?
He was fostered, not exiled. Yes, certainly he returned home. Less frequently the first few years, when he would have been performing the duties of a page and then a squire, more often and for longer periods later. During his "squire" years (he wasn't a squire in the strict sense, since he wasn't training for knighthood, but he was acting as one), he would also have accompanied Jon Arryn on many travels out of the Vale. And once he reached the age of sixteen he was a man grown, free to come to go as he liked... which would have included both time at home and in the Vale, since Jon Arryn had become a second father. The same was true of Robert, who divided his time between Storm's End and the Vale after reaching manhood, not to mention dropping in on tourneys and whatever choice fights he could find.
"I was his lord...My right, to make his match" says Lord Hoster about Brynden. Does it mean that the lord can force anyone under his rule to marry whomever he wishes? Can the people in question legally break the commitments made for them by the lord (i.e. promises, betrothals) and what penalty can the lord visit on them for this? What if they just refuse to exchange the marriage vows, etc?
They can indeed refuse to take the vows, as the Blackfish did, but there are often severe consequences to this. The lord is certainly expected to arrange the matches for his own children and unmarried younger siblings. He does not necessarily arrange marriages for his vassal lords or household knights... but they would be wise to consult with him and respect his feelings. It would not be prudent for a vassal to marry one of his liege lord's enemies, for instance.