A Dance With Dragons


Yes, it's been a long wait. To tell the truth, it's been a very long wait. A wait that has spawned Grrrumblers and haters, a wait that saw a lot of mud thrown the author's way. A wait that has raised expectations to a level that is a little bit scary, if you ask me. A wait that's been made much more difficult given the fact that the latest volume, A Feast for Crows, wasn't received as well as its predecessors.

Hence, the questions on everyone's lips are: Will A Dance With Dragons be worth the wait, and can the book possibly live up to the lofty expectations this interminable wait generated. Well, it is with great pleasure that I answer yes on both counts! The fifth installment in the A Song of Ice and Fire sequence delivers on basically all fronts. It's everything fans wanted it to be and then some! A Dance With Dragons isn't perfect, mind you. But it should silence George R. R. Martin's harshest detractors and demonstrate once again that, when he is writing at the top of his game, very few SFF authors, past or present, can spin a yarn the way GRRM can!

Here's the blurb:

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
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The worldbuilding has always been one of my favorite aspects of this series. Granted, GRRM keeps his cards pretty close to his chest in that regard, and has been doing so since the very first volume. Hence, the tantalizing glimpses he offers us from time to time add new depth to an already convoluted overall story arc and multilayered plotlines that form the backdrop of the entire series. This time around, we finally learn more about the Doom of Valyria. More background information about the land beyond the Wall, the Free Cities, Slaver's Bay, and Westeros' past is unveiled in various POV sections of the book. I particularly enjoyed Sir Barristan Selmy's POV section. Having served a number of kings as a member of the Kingsguard, the knight offers an interesting perspective regarding the events which led to the current conflicts on both sides of the Narrow Sea.

Many feel that A Feast for Crows' biggest failing was the tight focus of the narrative on a limited number of story arcs. For better or worse, Martin and his editors elected to concentrate on the events occurring in and around King's Landing, the Iron Islands, as well as Dorne. Many felt that this tight focus prevented the novel from being as epic as its predecessors. Which, I would have to agree, is true. On the other hand, A Dance With Dragons is a sprawling monster of a book. The action takes place in a panoply of countries, regions, cities, and locales, each with their own flavor. As such, A Dance With Dragons is, in style and tone, more akin to the first three volumes than A Feast for Crows.

The characterization is head and shoulder above basically anything else on the market. At his best, Martin can do things with his characters that other authors can only dream of. And let me tell you that GRRM is in top form in this book! Understandably, the bulk of the novel is comprised of Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys' POVs. This should please fans who have been clamoring for these characters for over a decade. And yet, the secondary POV sections, for me at least, are what gave the book most of its more memorable moments. Which is not to say that the "Big Three" did not deliver. But the supporting cast is responsible for quite a few surprises along the way.

To a certain degree, A Dance With Dragons is Jon's book. Becoming Lord Commander's of the Night's Watch has forced Ned Stark's bastard son to mature quite rapidly. Winter might be coming to Westeros, but on the Wall it's almost there. It is up to Jon to prepare the North for the coming of the Others, and some of his decisions will not sit well with the rest of the Watch and everyone else. Duty appears to be a main theme in both Jon and Daenerys' storyline, with both protagonists following different roads as they attempt to deal with the hand they were dealt. Jon, though he is forced to make choices that might cost him his position and more, accepts the responsibility which has been trust upon him and puts into motion various schemes that will help the North face the menace posed by the coming of a long winter. In this, he is definitely Ned Stark's son, putting honor and duty before his own desires. The character growth is evident, showcasing a young man duty-bound to protect those serving under him and the innocents he has vowed to protect. The Wall may be crumbling, the various forts unmanned, Stannis and his Queen major pains in his side, yet Jon strives to remain true to himself and his oath.

Daenerys, on the other hand, refuses to do what she must. She understands her duty, knows what needs to be done, but she is loath to give the order that will see blood spilled in the streets of Meereen. This came as a decidedly unpleasant surprise for me. Dany came a long way since we first saw her as a beautiful and innocent teenage girl in A Game of Thrones. I was expecting a woman grown in A Dance With Dragon, mother of dragons and rightful queen of Westeros, ready and willing to do what needed to be done so she could claim her birthright. Tempered by loss and war, I had expected Daenerys to have matured, to be a queen in deed as much as in name. Unfortunately, the ordeals have left her a frightened and ambivalent ruler, unwilling to pay the price to do what she has traveled across half the world to achieve. Beset by plotting and threats from every side, her narrative is filled with a girl dealing with moral dilemmas and refusing to act as a queen should. Disappointing, to say the least. Will she act before it's too late?

Tyrion's arc offers the highest number of surprises. Though our favorite dwarf will always be his witty self, everything Tyrion has gone through in the last few months has left him a bit more thoughtful and humane. Still, his narrative will get a fair share of laughs and chuckles out of you. With a price on his head, Tyrion must find a way to reach Daenerys anonymously, not an easy feat for the Imp. But soon, he becomes privy to a closely guarded secret that will shake the world. It came as a shock to me that such an important story arc could make its appearance so late in the game. I guess that GRRM has many more surprises up his sleeve.

As more than half of A Dance With Dragons runs in tandem with A Feast for Crows, the first 500 pages or so features a few Bran POV chapters. Nothing that offers any sort of resolution, of course, but his plotline moves forward, albeit not as much as most fans would like. There is a new POV character that plays an important role in this novel. However, since this is a spoiler-free review going up before the pub date, I will refrain from saying more. Suffice to say that this new POV offers new perspective on certain events, past and present, and is linked with a number of ongoing plotlines. Just when you believed that A Song of Ice and Fire couldn't get more convoluted, A Dance With Dragons raises the stakes even more. Secondary POVs include Davos and Reek, both of them meant to pave the way for what's taking place in the North. The same goes for Asha Greyjoy's POV.

As A Dance With Dragons moves beyond the fourth volume in the timeline, the narrative returns to the Dornish storyline, which gathers momentum and rises to a new level. As if there wasn't enough politicking thus far, we soon realize that Prince Doran is not the feeble ruler many believe him to be. Victarion Greyjoy, Jaime, Cersei, and Arya all have POV chapters in the second portion of the book, but these chapters more or less set the stage for what will happen in The Winds of Winter. As I mentioned, the most interesting POV character in the latter part of the book is Ser Barristan Selmy. In addition, the mysterious and shocking storyline tied to Tyrion early on get its own POV character just before the end of the book, indicating that nothing will be the same in Westeros from here on out.

For such a huge novel, the pace is seldom an issue. GRRM juggles quite a few balls simultaneously, tying up loose ends here and introducing unexpected plotlines there. So for the most part, the rhythm is fluid and the book is a page-turner. Only the Daenerys POV sections drag after a while, making me wonder why Martin bothered to write so many chapters devoted to her when sevral are just about her wondering what to do and refusing to do what she must. But other than that, this is a book that will keep you up past your bedtime for a few nights.

What many might find off-putting is the fact that basically all the principal story arcs end with cliffhangers. And I'm talking about major cliffhangers here, especially that which caps off Jon's plotline. In a series that's had its fair share of startling scenes and moments, A Dance With Dragons has one that's right up there with the Red Wedding! Still, the absence of any sense of resolution might annoy some readers, given the fact that we are all aware that volume 6 will not be published next year.

In the end, I feel that A Dance With Dragons is everything ASOIAF fans could have hoped for. It showcases a George R. R. Martin writing at the top of his game, moves the tale forward like no other installment to date. Those naysayers proclaiming that GRRM had lost his focus and the will to see this project through are proven wrong. Not only is this novel all that the others were, but GRRM raises the stakes to an even higher level then before. The lack of a true ending might irk some readers, sure, but A Dance With Dragons offers so much in terms of plot movement, revelations, and shocking moments that it doesn't truly matter a whole lot. And it sets the stage for an unbelievable The Winds of Winter.

True, George R. R. Martin may be a slow writer. He likes to go to conventions. He loves football. He likes to edit anthologies and work on the Wild Cards books. True, he's busy working in tandem with the HBO team on the TV series. True, he most probably can't devote as much time as he'd like to finishing A Song of Ice and Fire. But you know what? If I must wait a few years to get a book of this quality, I say it's worth it. . .

As most of you know, I won a football bet with George a while back. I lost our first two bets, sure, but that's got nothing to do with it! :P Anyway, my winning meant that he would base a character on me and then butcher him in a violent and bloody fashion. That was my only demand. I wanted a memorable death. Enter Ser Patrek of King's Mountain (a Montréal reference, since we met at Worldcon in 2009). You may notice that the heraldry of Ser Patrek's House is pretty similar to the colors of the Dallas Cowboys. That's no coincidence. I was expecting George to create a very minor character based on me and then kill him off on the following page. But it was very nice of him to make me a knight of Queen Selyse's entourage, to make me appear in a few chapters so I could make an ass of myself, and to kill me (yes, quite violently!) in what is probably the most spoiler-filled chapter of the novel! It's the ultimate fanboy moment, to be immortalized in such a way. You'll see. It's a good death!

Impossible to put down.

Roll on The Winds of Winter!

The final verdict: 9/10

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32 commentaires:

redhead said...

thanks for a spoiler free review! I'm happy to hear Jon and Daenerys get plenty of attention. Jon is one of my favorite characters, and I'm also happy to see Bran's storyline move forward.

but arrgghh, more cliffhangers??? not fair!

HF said...

Those cliffhangers are by far the most brutal, Martin has ever written in ASOIAF. Personally, I don't mind them. But readers who hated his cliffhangers in previous volumes will likely pile bucketloads of shit onto "A Dance with Dragons" and its author.

Anonymous said...

Good review, and quite fair. Frankly, I wish GRRM would drop that Wild Cards shite if it means WoW gets here faster, but whatever, every author has his muse. If the cliffhangers are as serious as you claim, I bet there's going to be some squalling abouts ye olde internets, though.

Adam said...

The enthusiasm in this review has my hopes up, but it's a small crest compared to the huge, HUGE trough of left in my gut by all the mentions of cliffhangers popping up in these early reviews. We waited this long for another incomplete story? That's not going to bother many just being turned on to the series by the HBO show, but I'm getting the awful impression "irked" is a pretty polite way to describe what some of us are going to feel upon reaching the book's completion (notice how I didn't say conclusion). I WANT to withhold my judgment, and I will try my damndest to since I already paid for the book (HC and Kindle)... but we already got one "Feast". You say it's better, I believe you. But "Feast" wasn't disappointing because it was poorly written - it was quite beautifully written - a lot of people didn't like the characters but that wasn't the problem with the story, the problem was a whole lot of buildup for no payoff except one minor cliffhanger with Cersei (which, I hope is resolved?). Is "Dance" different? Because it doesn't really sound like it, if all we get is an open ending with no resolution...

Anonymous said...

Cliffhangers, it's book 5 of 7! Of course there are going to be cliffhangers.

Just the fact that he is taking the story arcs in new and unexpected directions is awesome.

Sounds like a great book, I just started rereading SoS again, so it will have to wait a bit.

Great review.

Anonymous said...

cliffhangers themselves aren't bad, it's the 11 year wait between periodic "resolutions" and sudden new drop-offs that gets on people's nerves. I'm well aware of the details of this book's construction, but really, if Martin started this in 1991 and had kept the same pace, we'd be getting The Winds of Winter right now with one book left.

Again, 11 YEARS. Personally I love this series, but that's a long time for some people.

Blicko said...

I was lucky enough to snag a copy of ADWD at my local Wal-Mart, who for whatever reason, put the books out a week early. I'm about halfway through, and agree with everything Pat said. One thing I'm not looking forward to though is the wait for the next book!

Morrigan said...

Cliffhangers are to be expected in a work in progress. Why would anyone expect plot resolutions so soon? Think about all the previous volumes: the king in the North, the waking of the dragons; Tyrion's disfigurement after the battle of the Blackwater, Bran's re-emergence from the crypt, Theon getting his ass kicked (and disappearing for a full two books!), Sansa getting the hairnet from Dontos; Arya leaving the Hound to die and fleeing on the ship, Tyrion killing Tywin and escaping, Jon being named Lord Commander, and Lysa being murdered. Aren't those pretty much cliffhangers?

Pity that the Daenerys arc drags on a bit, though. Must be that whole Mereenese knot thing.

I'm way to curious to see what major revelation Tyrion stumbles upon. R+L=J? Don't see how that's really possible, though.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there are still books to come and George has to keep people interested in them. Of course there'll be no conclusion or completion. And does it really matter? There are other books to read in the meantime, it's not like GRRM writes the only stuff worth reading.

Anonymous said...

" The final verdict: 9/10

The characterization is head and shoulder above basically anything else on the market. At his best, Martin can do things with his characters that other authors can only dream of. "

Hem-hem. Hem-hem.

Pat's average score is 8.

GRRM deserves at least 17 or 18 out of 10.

Anonymous said...

There are cliffhangers and they are brutal, but the character's arcs come full circle in the book whether 'neatly' or not. There have been cliffhangers since '96 and big. The specifically brutal event Pat's talking about and its ambiguous outcome actually has some precedence in previous chapters, enough so that I'm convinced of what's already going to happen. FWIW tho', the book is packed with more than enough 'events' to sate.

Patrick said...

No worries, there is payoff at the end and throughout the book. But we are talking about a MAJOR cliffhanger where Jon's POV is concerned.

Daenerys' arc drags more than a bit, at least compared to the others. Though I've never liked her all that much, there are many disparate storylines tied up to the Targaryen thread in ADWD. I was expecting Dany to come a bit more into her own in this book. Not to be so worried and ambivalent...

Julie said...

Pat's average score is 7 point something or the other. Anything that gets an 8/10 or more is, in his opinion, excellent.

He gave both AGoT and ACoK 9/10. ASoS got a perfect 10 and AFfC for 7.75/10.

So if ADWD got 9/10, it means that it's one seriously badass book!

Loren Rosson III said...

Thanks for the review. Based on yours and and a few others circulating the web right now, I'm predicting that Dance will be my favorite after Storm.

My ratings (based on the five-star system):

Storm of Swords -- 5+ (beyond perfect)
Dance with Dragons -- 5 (?)
Game of Thrones & Clash of Kings -- 4.5 each
Feast for Crows -- 3

Anonymous said...

I have no problem waiting six years for the next book but I cannot wait so long for the resolution to one particular cliffhanger. I must know if one of the character is still alive. Hopefully GRRM will give us some hints that this person is still alive.

Zafri Mollon said...

If the rest of the novel is amazing, it still moves the plot forward, advances our understanding of the characters, and otherwise fills out the history of Westeros, I can't really complain about a few cliffhangers (although I may not be happy with them). His books (fantasy though they may be) seem more true to life than anything else, which is no doubt the reason he has problems ending with anything but a cliffhanger. Looking forward to it.

ito said...

What if he croaks before finishing the series and we're left with the cliffhangers in book 5? Winter will be without an end.

Thanks for the review :)

MH said...

The point is that cliffhangers are one of the characteristics of Martin's style. It is possible to provide some sense of conclusion in a single installment, but Martin ends every chapter in a cliffhanger way on principle. It's not just about plot-points but about basic storytelling. His stories are creeping along from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, because that's what it's really about. At its best it's a compelling maelstrom but when you look at it from a distance you might well wish for some directedness.

Adam said...

Hey Pat, and guys, I'm glad you weighed in a little bit more about the cliffhangers... (some) of my worries are alleviated. As long as it feels like a whole book rather than another half, I'll be happy... I was just worried by all the "you'll want more" I'm seeing in these reviews.

Anonymous said...

Of course there have been cliffhangers in past installments but they provide a some resolution for that characters story line in that book.

The Night's Watch preparing to go beyond the Wall. Robb being crowned. The birth of Dragons. Tyrion becomes Hand of the King. Dany leaves Qarth making her way West. Jon must join the Wildlings. Arya escapes Harrenhall. Tyrion has managed to hold the defenses of KL. Bran is facing his destiny by starting his journey North as his home is left in ruins. Tyrion fleeing East in exile. Jon becoming Lord Commander. Dany choosing to stay and rule Meeren. Arya leaving Westeros to become a faceless man. Cersei being sent to the dungeons. Jaime burning the letter. Doran trying to bring Dany back to Westeros

All of these cliffhangers create a large array of possibilities. They're game changers that open new pathways for that character. On the other hand you have cliffhangers like Brienne's hanging, Arya becoming blind, the unknown fate of Jaime after his chat with Catelyn. Yoren's knife coming down on Arya after Ned's execution. These are just short term cliffhangers to generate suspense and is what I fear will happen in ADwD based off these early reviews.

Vic DiGital said...

Here's a question I'm waiting for a good answer for: Can/should I read AFFC and ADWD concurrently? I'm halfway through my re-read of the first three books and was waiting for ADWD to come out to time up my first read of AFFC.

I'm sure someone will (if it hasn't been done already) post a chronological reading order of the chapters of the two books. Because the chapters were all intended to be part of the same book in the first place, I'd tend to think that it would still hold up as a unified reading experience in spite of the alterations I'm sure he had to make to make the separate books feel more independent and complete.

I've never read two books this way before, and while it might be a nightmare of logistics, it seems like it would be a fun, unique experience.

Patrick said...

Vic: Read AffC and then go on to read ADWD. Otherwise, it would just be a pain to coordinate everything...

Elizabeth said...

I want this book.

Now.

Anonymous said...

I've disagreed with some of Pat's reviews in the past but I have to say his comments on Dance are spot on. The cliffhangers in this one are just ridiculous though. 2-3 years wait between is okay but if he lingers another 5 years between books . . .

And Dany's storyline in this one is just atrocious. I couldn't stand her at the end. No spoilers but basically she turns into Sansa Stark which is not really what you want from the "Blood of the Dragon" 2 books from the end of the series . . .

Moses Siregar III said...

Haha! Congrats, Ser Patrek of King's Mountain.

Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

Seriously people, come on! Pat was put in this book my GRRM. He got an advance copy. They are buddies. Did anyone here really think the review would be objective? The fact that he gave it a 9, rather than a 10, tells you all you need to know. The book is a stinker. The consensus at Amazon is growing as well, the book is getting very poor reviews.

orodemniades said...

I'm only 100 pages in but ye gods it's fantastic - written like the first book, that same intensity and flow that for me so lacked in A Feast For Crows.

All I want to do is sit and read and stupid work is getting in my way!

Ayaaki Osawa said...

Your death is fucking awesome lol

Anonymous said...

Just in case you didn't notice... I think GRRM may have given you a bigger tribute than you realize.

Yes, the heraldry for Ser Patrek is a blue star. However, he was one of the "loyal knights" of Queen Selyse, so he was almost certainly a follower of R'hllor, the red god. In that sense he was a "red star". As he died, he was bleeding quite profusely, all over the place.

When the red star bleeds....

Patrick said...

Nope...

Saw those wacky theories on various message boards.

And that's just some of you guys grasping at straws...

George like me, yes. But not that much!

ito said...

I just finished it and my reaction was something along the lines of, Fuck you very much Mr Martin! :) Then I quickly picked up another book to forget the ending :)

I did enjoy it though, until I finished the 3rd to last chapter before the epilogue :)

Anonymous said...

Pat, your death was one of the most nauseating, graphic, and cruel and unusual deaths in the series thus far. And you were killed by one of my new favorites, too.

You are right to be proud.