A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire #5)

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance—beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys’s claim to Westeros forever.

Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone—a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.


So. I read it. I’ve read the book that everyone’s been waiting for. I’m now all caught up with A Song of Ice and Fire. What do I think?

I’m not gonna lie. I had a lot of problems, and I’m moderately disappointed in the book. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable because it was. I’m invested in many of the characters, the conflict continuest to be epic, and I intend to finish this series, no matter what. But right now, we’re in Middle of the Series Syndrome, and that’s a problem.

From reviews I read, I expected there to be more Big Reveals than there were, or at least ones of more import. I guess the revelation that Mad King Aerys’ son Aegeon was alive was supposed to be one of them, but since it had absolutely no previous set-up in any of the other books, it failed to have an impact. Also, his chances of actually accomplishing anything and winning the throne, even for a time, feel slim, simply because all he has is Griff and a company of sellswords. He’s somewhat of a threat, but I don’t actually think he has a chance of achieving anything worthwhile. Add the fact that I didn’t find Griff a particularly compelling character POV-wise, this plot development did nothing for me.

Also, I wasn’t all that into Tyrion’s storyline for most of the book. He ended on what I thought was a really high note in A Storm of Swords, because even if he did kill his father, I felt like he was in a position to rise above everyone, come up with plans, and really make a change. Once he fled, he could have done anything. Instead, he just sits there as he gets shunted along across Essos by multiple people, spending all his time remembering how he killed Tywin and his last words about Tysha. Really, most of what he does is behave like a douche and drink all the time. I was somewhat glad when Penny came along because she started forcing him to think about someone other than himself.

I kept thinking about my reaction to Tyrion and contrasting his chapters to Theon’s in A Clash of Kings, in which even though he was despicable, I still empathized with him. There was a teeny part of me that was sad he was fucking things up so spectacularly. However, with Tyrion, it felt like he decided to say, “screw it” and actively worked on being an asshole of gigantic proportions. I’m not saying that characters have to be good people for me to like them or enjoy reading about him, but in Tyrion’s case, there wasn’t anything to root for because he doesn’t do anything except go along with other people and continually get captured. Passivity combined with an unpleasant personality does not make for enjoyable reading about any character.

With regards to Dany, I spent the entire time flip-flopping on how I felt about her storyline. I did not like how it played out in A Storm of Swords because it felt too random that she suddenly decides she needs to free all the slaves, not to mention it had a lot of imperialistic overtones, what with Dany being the Western person who comes in to show Eastern people how to Do Things Right and the freed slaves referring to her as “mother”. Also aggravating was her inability to grasp the concept that once you overthrow a government and end a vital economic, political, etc. institution, that country will go to absolute hell afterward. And she did it twice! (Three times if you count Yunkai). While I appreciated how she did take some accountability for her actions and stayed in Meereen to get the country back to rights, it was hard to see what the point of it was, beyond the fact that Dany needed to learn how to rule a country. And the situation she created that required her to stay and rule Meereen was, as I said, problematic. I definitely see why George R. R. Martin kept referring to the “Meereenese knot” he was having problems with because what with the way he set things up, there was practically no way to extricate Dany from the mess she was in. I did think that Dany did as good a job ruling Meereen as can be expected, given the obstacles she was facing.

That’s another thing! The random storyline in the form of Quentyn Martell did have an ending (since, ya know, he died), but again, is that the sole purpose of him existing, that his actions advance the Slaver’s Bay storyline? I’m assuming now that Quentyn’s dead that the Martells will decide to support Aegon instead, so long as he doesn’t go and get himself killed. It didn’t help that Quentyn’s storyline was not able to hold my interest, largely because I knew his goal of marrying Dany was never going to succeed, so there didn’t feel like there was any point in me reading about him.

The most upsetting thing, personally? Arya only has two chapters. Why??? My favorite character, and she only gets a teeny fraction of page time? I am sad. That said, those two chapters were two of the best chapters in the book. The second most upsetting thing? Jon Snow’s seeming death (obviously). I say “seeming” because we all thought Theon was dead, and then he turned up alive and even a little bit sane in this book. Him being alive was the main WTF moment for me, and his chapters were some of the hardest to read out of anything in A Song of Ice and Fire. Seriously, there are some revolting things that occur in his chapters. Ramsey Bolton is scary as fuck.

In writing this, it’s really hard to discuss all these different storylines and have them all make logical sense with each other, and that explains why the last two books weren’t as good and why I’m getting concerned about the series as a whole. Starting with A Feast For Crows, George R. R. Martin started incorporating multiple other regions into the story, connecting all the various threads into one big world war. Unfortunately, there are now so many threads, only some of which feel worthy of investing in with regard to POV and the region’s aims. Compared to the first three books I was more or less invested in all POVs and regions, with A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons I spent a good deal of time waiting for the POVs and regions I actually cared about to come back. As such, the books are starting to sink under the weight of all the various threads. To make things even more frustrating, some of the POVs only have one chapter, such as Melisandre (though I did appreciate its existence) and Hotah (who’s just a set of eyes and ears, not a character).

All that being said, I think George R.R. Martin’s doing a good job keeping all the threads as logical and consistent as possible. This book could easily have been a lot messier than it was, and considering the number of plots, characters, and other pieces of this story, the larger story is still coherent. There are probably very few authors who could have done as well as he’s done given the material. If he can tie everything up and connect every stray thread in a way that works, then this series will be lauded as genius. If he doesn’t, it will crash and burn. This series needs to have as an epic and fitting ending, and I’m starting to get worried that it won’t. Even so, I think the odds are good that it will work out.

OK. I’m done complaining. Things I liked?

Jon Snow’s storyline was done really well, and I thought the struggle between his duties as a Lord Commander, aiding Stannis, helping the wildlings, and worrying about his own family was excellently written. Writing aside, I thought Jon as a character was a pretty decent commander and did a good job balancing all those conflicts. And then he gets stabbed! Not fair! Bran’s chapters were also excellent, and I loved reading about him learning how to do magic involving the weirwoods. Essentially, any of the chapters that took place in the North provided some of the best reading in this book. However, as with Arya’s, there were so few of them!

OK, there was one other good WTF moment – Varys. He finally comes into the open, revealing that he is intentionally working to destablize the current Westerosi monarchy and is working to restore the Targaryens to power. If nothing else, I really want to see just how Varys fits in with all the multiple threads he has a hand in.

In the end, it feels impossible for me to judge this book on its own, as it is impossible to separate it from the series as a whole. When the series is complete, the book will probably look better retrospectively than it does currently. Even though I’m not happy with this book on multiple levels, I’m still glad it exists because it does advance the story further and tells the stories of characters I’ve known and cared about since I was a teenager. I will continue to have faith in George R. R. Martin that he knows what he is doing and that the entire story will all come together.

Disclosure – library


3 thoughts on “A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire #5)

  1. My biggest problem with the Aegon revelation was that *he* didn’t seem to be a very strong or fleshed out character, which has become something of the barometer I use to measure how successful characters are going to be in this crazy tangle of plot lines. Even when she was much younger and more naive and afraid, Dany was more vibrant and interesting than this kid (and so were her motley crew of supporters). Even *Joffrey* was more interesting from the very beginning, albeit despicable. I’ve been consistently impressed with how strong an ensemble piece A Song of Ice and Fire is, so when I come across an uninteresting character, I tend to write him off–or else be very disappointed.

    And yes, more Arya! I get the sense that GRRM is biding his time and gathering other plot lines so her return to Westeros can cause the ruckus it deserves.

    • That too! Since Aegon had no POV chapters, I was hoping I could see in Aegon what Griff sees in him, but that didn’t work. I realized as I was writing the post that there were a number of characters in this book I had no interest in whatsoever. Considering one of the series’ strong points is the way GRRM writes characters, this is a problem, to say the least.
      The very least Arya deserves is the opportunity to wreak as much havoc and mayhem as possible. Here’s to hoping she gets it!

  2. Pingback: 2012 Hugo Award Nominees « Lost in a Good Book

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s