A Dance With Dragons (A Song Of Fire And Ice, Book #5)
George R.R. Martin
959 pages (hardcover)
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.
Rating: 3 / 5
There. I said it. Because as much as I’ve enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice saga, this latest book was a bear. I wanted to love it, especially since Martin himself signed the white-and-gold behemoth during his book tour. Alas, A Dance With Dragons. You’ll only get a “like” from me.
A Dance With Dragons doesn’t exactly begin where its predecessor, A Feast For Crows, ends. Martin had originally planned for both books to a single book, then realized it needed to be split due to length. Instead of doing a chronological split, he pieced the books together by location. Feast centered on Dorne, King’s Landing, the Iron Isles, the Eyrie, and Braavos – which meant certain major characters didn’t appear at all. Dance, on the other hand, revisits northern Westeros, the Wall, and Slaver’s Bay before drawing the other major settings back into the fray. So, for a good while, the events of Dance actually parallel those in Feast, then continue on and bring back POV characters from Feast. Confused yet? *shakes the bugs out of her brain*
It took a while for my brain to wrap itself around how the two novels were split. Once I did, I slipped back easily into one of the grittiest and most unpredictable fantasy worlds ever created. Martin knows how to keep readers on their toes – and fearing for characters’ lives. Even after all the bloody fights, ravenous trysts, political schemes, and gut-wrenching betrayals that came before, there’s a 99-percent chance that any guesses you have about what comes next will be obliterated. Or, more appropriately, roasted by dragonfire.
And who better to roast a reader’s expectations than George R.R. Martin? In many ways, A Dance With Dragons is a testament to Martin’s strengths as a writer. He’s great at building compelling character arcs, with Theon Greyjoy being his shining (and awfully tortured) star in Dance. He also excels at intertwining plot threads, reuniting and separating characters and bringing together others for the first time in ways that (once the reader gets all the necessary clues) make complete sense. And finally, Martin can turn words the way wizards cast spells. Sometimes he goes overboard with details, thus slowing the story’s pace. But when he sculpts the English language as he does in sections like Melisandre’s chapter, you can’t help but forgive him a little. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from said chapter, on Page 407:
Visions danced before her, gold and scarlet, flickering, forming and melting and dissolving into one another, shapes strange and terrifying and seductive. She say the eyeless faces again, staring out at her from sockets weeping blood. Then the towers by the sea, crumbling as the dark tide came sweeping over them, rising from the depths. Shadows in the shape of skulls, skulls that turned to mist, bodies locked together in lust, writhing and rolling and clawing. Through curtains of fire great winged shadows wheeled against a hard blue sky.
For me, the biggest draw of A Dance with Dragons was the return of my three favorite POV characters of the series. Tyrion Lannister still wields his wits and indulges in wine and women no matter where he’s plopped down in Westeros or the Free Cities. He never fails to make me laugh or ceases to amaze me by dusting himself off and getting back on his feet. Jon Snow continues to be one of the few characters with a true moral compass, and because of it he struggles under the weight of his new role as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. I sympathized for him as his fellow watchers questioned everything about him – his honor, his decisions of right vs wrong, even his authority – yet I never stopped rooting for him. As for Danaerys Targaryen, Dance shows her at her most vulnerable, and I sensed it in each of her chapters despite the confident facade she maintained. And when the Mother of Dragons feels powerless by what’s going on around her, you know things aren’t boding well.
I won’t say more about specific characters. At this point in the infamous “game of thrones,” the cast probably numbers in the hundreds. Exaggeration? Maybe, but it sure feels that big. More POV characters are introduced in this book; some are familiar faces, others are brand new. In fact, there are so many people to keep track of now that it’s hard to find room in my heart to care for them unless they stand out in some way. One new POV character in particular has only four or five chapters to connect with readers, but he never does. (At least, not with me.) So when that character died, I knew I should have felt sorry for him. Instead, I felt… well, nothing.
This ties in with A Dance With Dragon‘s biggest misstep: its poorly handled structure. Between an exciting first quarter and heart-stopping final quarter, the middle half snails along with few characters doing anything interesting or important. Sometimes I wanted to throw my hands up in the air, because I couldn’t see the point of the section I had just read. Several other quirks regarding POVs and the previously mentioned “location split” irritated me as Dance crawled along – and I still remember some of the reactions they provoked:
- Characters with only one chapter (“What was the point??”)
- Characters who disappear after the novel’s halfway point (“Wait a minute. What happened to that guy? I haven’t read about him in 300 pages.”)
- Characters last seen in the third book, A Storm of Swords (“Ummmm… what happened to this person when I last read about him two books and 2 years ago?”)
- Characters who appeared in all the previous books but not in Dance (“If I can’t remember what happened to Mr. X at the end of Book #3, how am I going to remember what happened to Miss Y in Book #4 when Book #6 finally comes out?”)
I tried very hard to avoid being snarky here. But when a book makes me seesaw between awe and frustration, the review should reflect those feelings, right?
So, in a beast-sized nutshell, A Dance With Dragons still sucked me in and took me on a ride, and I liked it for the most part. But it was also the most mind-numbing and maddening romp I’ve had through the Seven Kingdoms so far. I hope The Winds Of Winter is an improvement over Dance, especially in terms of organization and pacing. All that being said, I’m still a fan of George R.R. Martin and A Song Of Ice And Fire. I love too many of the characters who are still alive (although if you’ve read the book, too… please tell me You-Know-Who isn’t dead! That loss will completely and utterly gut me if it’s true), and I’m glad that I’ve finally caught up on all the books. Though at the TV show’s current clip, that won’t matter much longer…
Have you read A Dance With Dragons? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.