**spoiler alert** More like 3.8 stars, but I'll get to that in the review:
This is an A Dance with Dragons review. (Yes, I'm one of the lucky Germans...more**spoiler alert** More like 3.8 stars, but I'll get to that in the review:
This is an A Dance with Dragons review. (Yes, I'm one of the lucky Germans who got their pre-ordered copy early of amazon.de) Beware of SPOILERS.
So, A Dance with Dragons. I waited for four years for his book, some of you waited even longer. Was it worth it? Why, yes. That’s a stupid question. If I awaited a book eagerly for four years, watched amazon change its release date an absurd number of times, I’m obviously interested in how the story progresses for the books’ characters. And that’s what I got. I got to meet some of my favourite fictional characters again.
But is A Dance with Dragons any good? That’s the better question. Well, let me put it like this: It’s nowhere near as good as A Storm of Swords and there’s several reasons for it. Think of it more as A Feast for Crows part 2 and you won’t be disappointed. Because, A Feast for Crows part 2 is what A Dance with Dragons actually is. Part of it is certainly that Feast and the first half of Dance were supposed to be one book until it got split since it got too big. And it really shows in the writing.
Feast and Dance are like a filler episode, a breather for the reader, after the War of the Five Kings found its climax in A Storm with Swords. Feast showed the realm struggling and trying to find a new order, settling smaller, more insignificant affairs than the full-blown civil war of the previous volumes in the series. The writing seemed more slow paced. No big events happened that would shake the world (and the reader) like the deaths of Ned and Robert, or the sacking of Winterfell, Renly being murdered, Jon joining the Widlings in their attack on the Wall, or even the Red Wedding in the previous books.
The same is true for the majority of Dance. This is of course partly due to the overlap with Feast. If no exciting big earth shattering stuff happened in Feast we won't get them in Dance, otherwise we'd already know about them. ;) No big events take place. All we get, much like in Feast, is built-up for the big events (hopefully) taking place later in the series. And that’s the books greatest problem. Sure, once Dance's timeline passes the ending of A Feast for Crows the writing pace actually seems to pick up a bit (WHICH IS GOOD!), but not by much (I actually felt the last 150 pages -- apart from each characters last chapter -- felt as sluggish as the beginning of the book). Someone wrote A Feast for Crows featured too much travelling and this is also true of A Dance with Dragons. Worst of all, when the characters do travel, it serves no purpose other than moving them from point A to point B without actually advancing their respective plot threads.
Sure, we get to spend a few hundred pages inside their head, and learn about how they feel about their lives and situations in great detail, and don’t we all love Martin’s characters, so we should be happy to spend so much time on their little emotional problems, but … It’s stalling that’s what it is.
If we look at where the characters start off in A Dance with Dragons and where they end up … they don’t actually move around that much. Let’s see: Tyrion starts of in Volantis on his way to Mereen. And a thousand pages later he’s still trying to get to Mereen. Sure, he’s met up with Ser Jorah on the way, but neither does he fell different about his father, his siblings or Shae than he did at the beginning of the book, nor has he found out anything about Tysha’s whereabouts, not did he actually achieve any of the things he set about to do and that the reader was excited about when A Storm of Swords ended (aka, he hasn’t met Dany and the dragons, yet, and Dany doesn’t even know about him).
So what about Jon? In the beginning of the book he was rebuilding the forts along the Wall and swearing in Wildlings to aid the Night Watch’s dwindling numbers defend against the others. This is practically all he does in this book. Only in his last chapter does he actually begin to do something interesting, that couldn’t have been summed up with “more of the same we already saw last chapter”.
Cersei too is at the end of the book still stuck where we last saw her in Feast – awaiting her trial – only know she’s not imprisoned in a tower too. That’s not exactly what I’d call a rapidly advancing plot.
Davos’ chapters interesting cut out just when it gets interesting. I want him to find Rickon, not read about him doing some sight-seeing in White Harbor or sitting in a damp cell for 12 pages. :/ (his chapters were still kinda enjoyable though, cause he’s such a likable fellow and, unlike many other characters in this series, mostly sane and so lovably down-to-earth).
I’d rather have had another chapter of Jon Connigton besieging a castle or killing stuff. I found he’s a new character that I quite like.
And then there was Quentyn. He’s also one of those PoV’s with maybe one chapter too many. The character itself didn’t impress me very much. I can’t say I particularly wanted him to succeed in his marriage plans, but Quentyn himself was a nice enough guy who should’ve heeded Barristan’s words and gone home instead of getting himself BBQ’d
Another problem is that not only do we only get served built-up instead of actual pay-off, but a lot of the chapters even come of as pure filler material. The book does not need to be as long as it is. The first Victarion POV chapter could have easily been cut. Tell us how they took the red priest on board and that he won Victarion’s trust by healing his arm in 2 or 3 sentences in retrospective.
And did we really need to see Melisandre’s new extremely vague prophecies? Couldn’t she just have told Jon about them in one of his chapters? And did we really need to get inside Melisandre’s PoV to know that Jon’s important to her? As if it wasn’t blatantly obvious already.
Even worse are Arya’s chapters. So, she gets her eye-sight back and accepted into the Many-faced-God’s brotherhood… nice. For what purpose did her chapters have to be in this book and not the next? Just so we don’t forget about her? That’s nice of Martin, but not likely. Her chapters have absolutely zero connection to any of the other parts in the book. If we’d had known the loan shark she’d murdered her chapters might have at least served some purpose to knit a few storylines together, but really her chapters should have been cut.
All in all the book could surely have been at least 200 pages shorter and then maybe not have felt so sluggish in its pace.
Actually the only character’s PoV I really found interesting and kept looking forward to while reading were the PoV’s of:
Dany. Mostly for the development of the dragon’s storyline. Heck, that whole “Mother of Monsters” angle really moved me. I would hope that Dany gets her darlings under control and won’t have to feel so guilty for raising/failing them, but then why would Martin ever make it easy for her. I cheered when she climbed on Drogon’s back and they flew away, but the last chapter in which she’s on foot again because she really can’t control him at all shattered any illusions pretty quickly.
Bran. He’s the only character who delivered what was promised in one of the earlier books: he gets to meet his three-eyed crow. I think the book also did well in leaving his storyline well alone after he had reached the greenseer, and just hinting in Theon’s chapters that he’s beginning to master his dream-walking.
Barristan. After he replaces Dany at least. There’s also at least one of his chapters that could have been better summed up in retrospect in a later chapter two (the one in which he meets with the leader of the Brazen Beasts), but eventually things happen in his chapters. Plus, Barristan is just one cool, sympathetic old guy. :) When he spent a few paragraphs musing about the boys he raises as knights all I could think of was how much I wanted him to succeed and eventually come back to Westeros and see his boys kick some ass for Dany. And IMO “The Kingbreaker” is one of the most beautiful and satisfying chapters in the book. It begins in a wonderful, melancholy atmosphere and ends with one of the rare but exciting action scenes in the book. I was actually worried Barristan might die.
Oh and let me just mention Jaime’s chapter really quickly. Here’s one nice case of when resolving a cliffhanger from a previous book (Brienne lives! :) ♥ ) making the suspense even more unbearable (Brienne leading Jaime to Undead!Cat where God knows what will happen to him. DDD: )
Then there’s Theon. BLOODY THEON!!!! If THEON’s chapters are far more interesting than Tyrion’s something is seriously wrong with the book.
(and speaking of Tyrion’s chapters … it took me until Jaime’s one-shot PoV to realise that the book is lacking humor. What happened, Tyrion, what happened? Please get over your depression soon, if only for the humor’s sake … alternatively, we need more Sansa-chapters to get a healthy dose of Littlefinger’s dead-pan snark.)
Theon’s chapters are also written in such a hauntingly disturbing and unsettling way, that they’re just a joy to read.
Finding out what happened to Theon is also one of the few instances of actual pay-off we get from events earlier in the series. Other scenes like it – aka the scenes that really excited me and will be what I will take with me from and remember about the book – are Jon executing Janos Slynt, Dany riding Drogon, Quentyn burning and perhaps Barristan arresting the slaver king. Certainly the last scene before the epilogue was pretty powerful, too: Dany, together with Dragon, facing her old Khalassar. A Red Wedding, though, these ain’t. ;) Now this sound pretty harsh so far. Why did I enjoy the book at all then? Well, the book (at least when you’re first reading it) draws suspension from little chapter-to-chapter cliffhangers. For example, learning that young Griff is really Aegon, not knowing if Barristan will actually manage to arrest Loraq, or Tyrion’s ship being lost in a storm, is really exciting the first time around. But I already dread a second read-through. The book can only lose. It’s an endless tease. It dangles the characters’ goals right in front of them, but they are thwarted at every turn. It’s not good suspenseful writing, but exceedingly frustrating. The epitome of this is embodied in Jon’s last chapter. The real tragedy of Jon’s chapters is that when it looked like Jon was going to go and face Ramsay -- an idea that got me really excited – he was to be struck down by his stewards. So even The Winds of Winter probably won’t give us Jon vs. Ramsay (I expect Melisandre to somehow heal him, but even then he’d best stay at the Wall and sort out this mutiny before he goes adventuring).
It’s like Martin is playing a game of bait-and-switch with us. Pretending to move the plot along in meaningful ways when all the characters do is essentially treading water. Only in their last chapters are their respective plot threads actually allowed to progress.
Sure, it’s a very entertaining, but, in the end, all this built-up without barely any pay-off just left me frustrated in the end. Just SHOW us Franken!Gregor already. Let Tyrion into Mereen. Show us Rickon and Shaggy again, or tell us who Coldhands is. Just give us something so we feel comforted about the fact that the really important big stuff will only happen in the next book(s).
Now, I’m not saying A Dance with Dragons is a bad book. The few action scenes are great, the violence is shocking, the characters are (mostly) their usual interesting selves, and the writing style itself is of Martin’s usual highly readable standard (crude but practical), even if he tends to repeat some favourite phrases a bit often (oh, and he dared to use a phrase like “she didn’t know where she ended and he began” during a sex scene, which I think is unforgivable, but then, the whole Dany/Daario relationship reminds me so much of starry-eyed fangirl fantasies, so I’m letting that one pass as a spoof. Oh, and is it just me, or has he found a new favourite word, replacing ‘loyal’ with ‘leal’?) but once the series is (hopefully one day) complete I don’t think Dance will be the one I’m going to reread the most often.
In short: A Dance with Dragons is a long, long book, in which surprisingly little of actual interest happens. In this it is a lot like A Feast for Crows. Still, I liked Feast, and I like Dance. (though Feast had the added advantage of featuring PoV's of a lot more of my favourite characters -> Jaime, Brienne and Sansa, while in Dance I looked forward the most to Dany's and -- oddly enough in an "How could that happen?"-way -- Theon's PoVs) (less)