A Dance with Dragons
(A Song of Ice and Fire # 5)
By George R.R. Martin
Synopsis (via goodreads): In the aftermath of a
colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance
once again--beset by newly emerging threats from every direction.And from all corners,
bitter conflicts soon 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. . . .
I can't believe I've already finished the series! I really should have slowed myself down so that I wouldn't have to reread it in 5-10 years when GRRM finally releases the next book in the series! It's going to destroy my patience trying to wait out the next book's release...waiting is not my forte. Anyway, onto the review of the recently released book five of the wonderful and magnificently large A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. Obviously since this is book five it'll contain spoilers from the previous four books so if you haven't read them yet and you don't want them spoiled do not read on!
Ok so my previous review for book four, A Feast for Crows, stated my ambivalence for this book. Partly because AFFC didn't really live up to the previous books and because A Dance with Dragons takes place at the same time as AFFC but tells the story of the characters who missed out getting in to AFFC. So my verdict? Well...I'm torn. On one hand I raced through this book and at no time did it feel like it was a chore or difficult to get through the 961 pages (my edition) but on the other hand...meh. I'm going to do my best to describe what I liked and disliked about this book but I'm having trouble actually putting it into words it was just...meh.
So as mentioned the book continues along the timeline set in the previous book, but this time we get to hear from my favourite characters, and in my opinion the more interesting characters, Jon (at the wall), Tyrion (escaping from King's Landing) and Daenerys (struggling to rule Mereen), as well as characters like Bran, Davos, Quentyn and a few others. Because I've read these books in pretty quick concession I had no issue picking up where their stories had been left off but I imagine anyone who has had a bit of time lapse in between reads might have difficult remembering all the smaller, yet important, details and more importantly they may have issues recalling exactly who all the minor characters are. Especially those around Daenerys in Mereen with all their ridiculously similar names Hazayrr, Kazayrr, Khazzyr or whoever they are!
It did take a little getting used to the pace of this novel because even though chronologically it's in line with AFFC it doesn't exactly match up. So when Jon's chapters start up Sam seems to linger around for a lot longer than he did in the previous book (where we read from his perspective) because for Jon there was more that needed to happen before he could send Sam away. And at times I'd find myself a little muddled and confusing action from the previous book with this book, "wait I thought Sam was on his way south, why is he still at the wall?" for example. This was mostly an issue at the very start of the book, once Sam had headed south, it was a lot easier to fall into the rhythm of the book.
One of my chief concerns was that this book would waste chapters rehashing an event from another perspective. There were perhaps two chapters where a large chunk of the dialogue/action was exactly as it had been in the previous book. Again the example coming to mind is when Jon tells Sam he's sending him to become a maester. There is dialogue and interaction that occurred before this conversation and we get a bit of insight into why Tilly ran crying from Jon while Sam was waiting to speak with him, but a large chunk of the chapter is simply what we'd already read with the occasional input of internal dialogue from Jon. I found that beyond boring and I found the internal insights confusing because even though I knew they were giving explanation to why Jon made faces at Sam or paused in his speech in Sam's version from AFFC I couldn't actually remember exactly what happened in Sam's version and I wasn't interested enough to pull out that book and read them side by side. Luckily this only happens in one other chapter (that I can recall) but for those chapters it is a little clunky and awkward and really could have probably been edited out or down.
What it does do with this chronological format is provide the full story behind some of the rumours in AFFC. Early into AFFC Cersei receives word that Davos, Stannis's hand also known as the Onion Knight, had been beheaded at White Harbour. In this book we find out what really happened, in much more detail, and this new aspect adds a whole new dimension to the news and information those in King's Landing receive. In my reviews of the earliest books I expressed my delight over the secrecy and double-crossing that was had a constant presence in the books. Basically that's what happens in this book, except rather than just realising it from chapter to chapter when you see what news different characters receive and how they react/act around different people in small groups (most commonly in King's Landing) you see this behaviour taking place across the kingdom. The two sub-plots that blossom in White Harbour with Davos (one that begins to take shape, and one which is left for the next book) are only small but they have the potential to grow greatly and I found them very, very interesting!
This book has a much quicker pace but I think that really comes down to the characters it focuses on. In King's Landing things had begun to stagnate. Cersei was losing her mind to paranoia and struggling to maintain her power through her son around the shifty characters she'd surrounded herself with. It was quite small scale and for the most part concerned only King's Landing and a few characters. Similarly Brienne's chapters were basically her saying "I'm looking for my sister, a girl of three and ten" over and over as she rode through the ruins of Westeros. However this book had Quentyn (son of the prince of Dorne) struggling to make his way to Daenerys to swear his allegiance through marriage, Tyrion racing away from King's Landing and his sister's clutches and falling in to some interesting company (on more than one occasion!) and Jon struggling against the Wildings, the Others and the obnoxious King Stannis and his red witch. So immediately this book covers a far greater area and looks at several different conflicts and issues taking place across the seven kingdoms and beyond. That said it still is a little slow. Not snail pace, but it's filling in a lot of gaps, reminding audiences of earlier conflicts and providing new details of back stories which had previously been hinted at.
I had no real problem with this slower speed especially when about two thirds of the way through it actually overtakes the previous book and begins to give us completely new stories. Cliff hangers from AFFC are answered or at least re-glimpsed and the action takes off at a much faster pace. It really needed those slower two thirds to set up the scene for the last part of the book and hopefully this means the next book will begin at an equally fast pace and really snowball the story home.
So I had no real problem with the pace of the story but I did feel like a lot of it was unnecessary. Did GRRM really need 2000 pages and two books to tell this part of the story? One of the things I really loved about GRRM was how he managed to write this huge, all encompassing story but still maintain it fairly succinctly. I feel like he's perhaps lost control of these books. Davos was given four or five chapters to do very little and as soon as things got really interesting it was left. Bran spent a long time walking north and once things got interesting the chapters ended. Brienne and Jaime were reintroduced at the two thirds mark, we were teased a little and that was it. Jon didn't really develop too much that hadn't been introduced in the previous three books and Daenerys lingers on in Mereen even though nothing happens except people hate her or want to marry her. Ultimately it was 961 pages of story which really could have been worked into the previous book if GRRM had a more concrete idea of where the story was going and what needed to be included, and what was merely interesting filler. I guess this is where the meh reaction comes in. I enjoyed reading the book, I like the characters and I love the world he's created and his writing is still fantastic but did I need to read it, did it advance the story at all? No, not really, and I imagine those fans who've waited five years for it will be a little let down.
Which I guess brings me on to my final point, his unbelievable overuse of cliff hangers! In the first two or three books these cliff hangers weren't really an issue because more often than not the cliff hanger was resumed in the same book at a later chapter. Now that GRRM has so many characters (I think he's literally bordering on a cast of 1000s) if he leaves a chapter as a cliff hanger, especially one of the minor characters like Davos or Sam, there is a chance it won't be picked up again in the same book. So at this point there are literally dozens of story lines left hanging, some since two books previously, which perhaps won't be resolved any time soon. It makes it a little frustrating and a little confusing. There are only so many sub-plots and frayed story lines that can be remembered at any one time and as time goes on they'll need more background provided to rehash them (you can't expect your audience to reread every book again each time you publish a new one) which will take up unnecessary space and waste yet another book.
I feel like this has come out really negative which wasn't my intention at all! I really did enjoy the book, some of the story lines were fantastic and I jumped around in anger/happiness/fear more than a few times! But I guess once you start to think about it for an extended period of time you start to realise the inconsistencies and the difficulties the series is up against. If you haven't read the series yet (but have decided to risk spoilers to read this!) don't let this be a deterrent, it's a wonderful series and has some great potential to go into new, uncharted waters. If you've read it, I'm interested in what you think about this book, let me know in the comments!