Wow. I am stunned at how much worse this book is than its predecessors. After the tremendous plot from the first three novels, the action here grinds...moreWow. I am stunned at how much worse this book is than its predecessors. After the tremendous plot from the first three novels, the action here grinds to a halt. Worse than that, the storytelling technique is so different from before, so tedious. Most of the novel feels only like introspection, and much of the introspection is repetitive. I know that part of what I liked so well earlier in the series was the attention paid to each character, but that just doesn't work here. Earlier, we'd see great detail as characters would grow and change, but here, they are static, even stagnant. There isn't a character at the end of the novel who is substantially different from his/her portrayal at the start. In addition, Martin adds many new characters to the mix--new characters who don't seem to do much of anything. Sure, there are a few who shake things up, but most of the newcomers seem so trivial. They do little to impact the plot, nor do they provide a unique perspective. They are not a fresh voice; in fact, they don't even seem too different from the other characters or from each other Instead, they bog down the story and distract from the parts that are well-written. The introspection all seems to blur together, and many times, when returning to a character, Martin just repeats much of what the character was feeling in the last chapter. (In case I fell asleep, I guess, so I can know I didn't miss anything.)
The writing disappoints on many different levels. Unlike previous books, some of the chapters don't begin with a character's name. Instead, they have titles like "The Soiled Knight" or "The Princess in the Tower," which is confusing and gets old fast. There are many dangling threads, and there are so many cliffhangers and fakeouts that I want to scream. While the last book stopped characters' story arcs at a satisfying point, this book just throws characters into dangerous situations and leaves them there. Worse, so often the writing is so vague that I don't actually know what this imminent danger even is. (Some characters may have died! Or not! Or soon will, maybe! Do I even care, at this point?)
This book ends at under a thousand pages, which is more than a hundred less than book 3, but it feels three times as long. I am floored that someone could write a 900 page novel in which nothing happens. Ironically, there are some exciting events that, I'm sure, would deeply impact the characters who endure them, but these events happen offscreen, as it were. A character (say Sam, for example) will have a chapter of introspection, disappear for a hundred pages, and reappear for another chapter of vague speculations about the future or fond recollections of another character that we've already read about. By the way, a couple of exciting life-changing events have happened to him in the time between his chapters when we weren't following his story, but we will only learn about these things in passing, and the look into his thoughts will focus more on abstract themes than on any personal development.
The heart of the story still follows the same characters from the earlier novels, and half of those characters won't appear in this book at all. I know that Martin intends this book to cover the same time frame as book 5, which will leave these characters alone and tell the stories for the ones who are missing here. This leaves the reader with half a story, which is just exactly what it feels like.
This is my favorite in the series so far. The plot continues to drive the book along, making it seem much shorter than its 1100 pages, and there are s...moreThis is my favorite in the series so far. The plot continues to drive the book along, making it seem much shorter than its 1100 pages, and there are still plenty of surprises left. What I like best in this novel is the character development--not only does Martin give detailed insight into characters' minds, but they also grow and change throughout the book. Some characters face a crisis and rise above, while others learn from their experiences and gain maturity. One of these story arcs, in particular, is among the most moving that I've ever read, and I can't wait to see more of this character in future books. It's not all wonderful, however, as Martin throws in enough "fake-outs" for the writing to start to feel gimmicky at places. (Oh look! So-and-so's dead! Surprise! He's really not! Fooled you!) It's still an enjoyable read, though. Martin also deserves credit for ending this book at a very good point in the story. Without feeling pressured to tie up loose ends (and trust me, there are plenty of those), he does justice to the individual stories. He leaves some level of closure, and the different characters' positions at the end of the novel offer a satisfying conclusion to this installment.(less)
I enjoyed this second installment in the series even more than the first book. A certain event at the end of A Game of Thrones (if you've read it, you...moreI enjoyed this second installment in the series even more than the first book. A certain event at the end of A Game of Thrones (if you've read it, you know which event I mean) is the catalyst for much of this novel's action. Beloved characters from the first book are given even greater depth here, and their decisions will shape not only their own destinies, but that of those around them. The carefully-woven plot drives the story and leaves the reader wanting more.(less)
If you are tired of sanitized fantasy tales with too-perfect heroes and 2D villains, this fantasy series from George R. R. Martin may be a refreshing...moreIf you are tired of sanitized fantasy tales with too-perfect heroes and 2D villains, this fantasy series from George R. R. Martin may be a refreshing change. Don't let the fuzzy wolves fool you: there is nothing "cute" about this story. While there are supernatural elements in this novel, much of the story is told with gritty realism. The characters are largely complex and nuanced, and Martin does not balk from portraying political power struggles, greed, murder, sex, and betrayal. The "main" plot (if there is one) follows one family who is separated and eventually scattered as the turbulent political situation worsens. The six children, aged 3 to 14, each have a direwolf to protect them, but they must ultimately make their own way in an unfriendly and unfamiliar environment.
That said, I did not like this book as much as I could wish. The story grabbed me from the beginning, and I dropped pretty much everything to read it as fast as possible, yet I found that I could not recommend it to any of my friends. There's a lot going on in this novel, which means that there's going to be something to bother everyone. I know someone who loves reading about medieval warfare, but I can't recommend this to him because he wouldn't enjoy the fantasy. I have a friend who loves epic fantasy, but he'd be put off by the graphic sex. Another friend might give the book a chance because of the very interesting plot, but she's already told me that she isn't looking forward to Elys who marries Alys and Aegon/Aemon/Aerys Targaryen and 4 different Brandon Starks and at least 5 guys named Jon and two different Neds who are really Edrick and Eddard and 35 million minor characters who may or may not be important later so you'd better remember all their names. Another friend who has read this already (and who, incidentally, didn't recommend it to me, either) says that the detailed descriptions of every little thing really get on her nerves.(less)