Lately on my alternate-history message-board, what-ifs set in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire universe have been particularly interesting. One recent what-if was, "What if Ned Stark had taken the black?"
(That was the original plan, before King Joffrey "Baratheon" gave the impulsive order to cut off his head, throwing gasoline onto the Stark-Lannister feud that had already led to war in the Riverlands.)
The board member whose handle is Rhaegar I suggested a fan-fic entitled, well, "Ned Stark Lives!" The point of divergence from canon is that Varys overhears Littlefinger subtly suggesting Joffrey have Ned killed rather than exiled to the Wall and ensures that, thanks to his poisoning talents, Joffrey has a few days of severe diarrhea. This keeps him away from Ned's public "confession" and so Ned leaves King's Landing with, among others, Gendry and his own daughter Arya in disguise as a boy. However, crossing the war-torn Riverlands isn't easy, even with a warrior like Ned to help out.
Overall, it's a really, really interesting story. Things go (more realistically) happier for House Stark than in canon. And the story is so well-done that it even made me care for the vile Lannisters and Theon Greyjoy, who follows his canonical path to a certain point. Heck, even the sleazy Littlefinger gets a moment of glory. These are people whom I've criticized in very stringent terms to my fellow ASOIAF enthusiasts, so getting me to like them takes effort. And I rather like what the writer did with Roslin Frey, who seems rather less shallow than the other women of House Frey. Not only that, but more intelligent (she recognizes how dysfunctional their situation is). There's also a comic bit about how the Freys are seen by the other houses they're intermarried with--her Rosby relatives tease her by asking if her father (Walder Frey) is really her great-grandfather.
My main beef is that a lot of attention is devoted to Gendry/Arya. On top of the fact that he's in his teens and she's ten or eleven and the fact it takes up so much of the story, there's also the social/political problems with this relationship. Although Ned remembers his father being too controlling of his wild sister Lyanna (and her probable rebellion against his betrothal of her to Robert Baratheon by eloping with Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, which set the stage for Robert's Rebellion) and has shown a willingness to indulge Arya's tomboy ways by allowing her fencing lessons, Gendry is still a commoner even though his father is King Robert. Furthermore, as a daughter of the ruling Lord Stark, Arya is quite a useful piece in the political games that Ned, having been severely screwed by Littlefinger and other players, has gotten a bit more adept at playing. And on top of that, she's been promised to Elmar Frey as part of the deal that got Robb Stark's army a quick passage into the Riverlands to rescue Ned in the first place. Realistically Ned and Catelyn would find some gentle way to separate them or in the less likely event Ned is willing to let such a situation occur, he would probably find some way to raise Gendry's social position to make him a "worthy" match for a daughter of the Lord Paramount of the North.
(For example, Gendry does something really clever later in the first story to help the Stark armies return to the Ironborn-afflicted North without taking insane numbers of casualties. Why wasn't he knighted? Gendry gets knighted in canon by Beric Dondarrion anyway and the "upjumped smuggler" Davos Seaworth ended up Hand of the King, so it's not like this sort of thing doesn't happen.)
In any event, the sequel moves away (to a large degree) from the Seven Kingdoms proper to the Wall and the areas around it as the Others begin driving the wildings toward it like the Huns once drove the Germans against Rome. There's less room for teen/preteen drama and more room for Ned whupping up on the Others with his Valryrian steel sword. :)
3 hours ago