A Dance with Dragons – George R R Martin
(Warning: contains a few indirect spoilers for the first four books)
I’ve done it! I am officially up to date with the Song of Ice and Fire series. Now I can wait along with everyone else for the next book to be released, so I can find out who’s going to be invading Westeros next, and whether R + L does in fact equal J. However, I’ll be waiting patiently, since I was really disappointed with A Dance With Dragons.
Once again, the book doesn’t represent a whole story on its own, but one chapter of a greater tale, much of which takes place in-universe at the same time as the events of A Feast For Crows. I’m okay with that, but what I’m not okay with is the fact that much of this book was rather dull. It feels very stretched out; a lot of the detail regarding events is unnecessary, as the story (for each character) isn’t actually moving forward significantly. Sometimes, an individual character’s progression in this book could be summed up in a fraction of the pages.
A Dance with Dragons continues to give us a taste of the wider world, and just how it’s all being affected by the events of the previous books; you wouldn’t think a conflict called “The War of Five Kings” could be considered simple, but things have come a long way since then. On the one hand, the amount of detail in Martin’s world is still very impressive. On the other, the whole thing is getting uncomfortably complicated. For much of Daenerys’s portions, which see a lot of conflict, I was really finding it difficult to determine who was fighting who and what each side was doing at any particular moment. As if that wasn’t enough, we even get another contender for the Iron Throne entering the mix. Hopefully when Game of Thrones reaches this point, it’ll be easier to grasp.
After being absent for A Feast For Crows, Tyrion, Daenerys and Bran are all back. Sadly, even Tyrion’s not as much fun as he once was; while he’s still his usual snarky, talkative self, the situations he’s in aren’t as compelling as when he was playing the game of thrones. Daenerys is reasonably interesting, with the huge pile of difficulties she has to face as queen of Meereen, and there are some entertaining scenes involving her well-grown dragons – but as I said, much of what happens in her segments is too complicated. Bran, after all his dull travelling, finally gets where he’s going, and it looks potentially very interesting – but we don’t see much of it this time round as he only gets a few chapters. As for the other characters, I liked the return of Theon most, both what he does and how his mind has been twisted after a long period of horrific torture. Like Bran, Arya and Cersei only get a few chapters. And while Jon’s segment is mostly boring, it ends on one heck of a cliffhanger.
It feels like this book, and A Feast For Crows before it, are the difficult middle children of this series. Martin appears to be setting up some potentially exciting conflicts and scenarios for the books to come, but we have to get through this less interesting stuff first. Also, if there are two books left, there’ll need to be a lot crammed into them to provide a satisfying conclusion.
A Dance with Dragons was a real slog to get through and I found myself skimming a lot of it – but it’s still necessary reading to get to the (hopefully better) later books, whenever they come out. Rating: 2/5.