Meanwhile, back in D’Hara…or at least that is what this novel feels like. It is a disorienting aside to start with a random dead D’Haran soldier being found in a random location, especially considering the power with which Faith of the Fallen ended. I am disappointed in this, as I simply want to get back to the story line that I care about: Richard and Kahlan. This is actually a major criticism that I have of Goodkind; his linking stories are so extensive that they take away from the other story lines, rather than adding to them.
Jennsen is a new character, who meets with Sebastian, an agent of the Imperial Order. I am curious, though, that if Sebastian is as important as he appears to be in the story, why has he not yet before been mentioned? In any case, in an interesting thematic twist, Sebastian fills Jennsen in on recent events from his perspective, which is decided anti-Richard. This isn’t helped by the attempt on Jennsen’s life (later revealed to be orchestrated by Sebastian), playing on the fact that the Rahl’s have traditionally hunted down bastard children to eliminate their potential threat.
Oda is also a bastard child of Darken Rahl, but he has embraced his darker nature, while Jennsen has fought hers. I suspect that this is a subtle critique of Oda’s intelligence. It also does not appear that Oda is being hunted, but whether this is because he has remained unnoticed or because the Imperial Order thought that Jennsen could be more easily manipulated it is not clear. It could also be because of the presence of Lathea in the nearby village. In any case, the unique ability to be immune to magic manifests itself when Lathea tries to defend herself against Oda’s violence.
**Warning: There are spoilers laced throughout this entire review…You have been warned.**
It has taken me a while to get through this book. Partly because I was nervous to read it, due to Martin’s history of dramatic plot twists and reputation (definitely deserved) for killing off fan favorites and “major characters.” However, it is for these reasons that I love this series and this story. No one is safe.
This is my first read through of this book. I spent some time looking for clues and understanding nuances that might give some sort of indication to where the story is going to go and to how the characters are going to thrive or die trying, but I will be doing a much deeper read in the future and will be updating this review as new revelations come to light. There are still a tremendous number of questions that are far from being answered: What’s going to happen with Rickon? Can Bran do anything other than watch what’s going on? Any developments from the Eyrie or Sansa and Petyr? Is Brienne in the same state as Coldheart? Where is the Blackfish?
I am going to break down my thoughts on different parts here in a bit, but first, some general observations. Overall, A Dance of Dragons did not disappoint. However, there were points were I did feel that not only did the story drag, but it also ended up not really moving the plot along. Two examples of this are Victarion Greyjoy and Quentyn Martel. For different reasons, these characters participated in many things to ultimately have no impact on the trajectory of the story. Now, I understand that not every character needs to have a profound impression on the story line, but if these two characters were cut out, nothing would have changed. Of course, I could be very, very wrong, depending on what happens next. (How will Dorne respond to Quentyn’s failure and death? Did Quentyn somehow set things in motion by releasing the dragons?) Victarion really seemed to do nothing but sail around and “get closer” to finding Dany.
But that being said, I believe that this book truly sets up a series of conflicts that will be resolved over the coming novels.
Jon Snow’s Death?
I want to deal with this one first. Obviously, this is the major cliffhanger. Not only was it the most shocking to me, but I firmly reject the idea that he is dead. There are a mix of micro and macro reasons why I think this. First, we never get confirmation that he is dead. It is only from Jon’s point of view and it is a well-documented fact that you can only truly believe someone is dead in the world of Westeros if a “reliable” source sees the body. Other examples of this tactic include both the Mountain (Robert Strong = Zombie Greagor?) and the Hound. Second, GRRM has said that Jon would discover his parentage, which he has yet to do. I know that this doesn’t have narrative evidence, but it is what it is.
By proxy, the role of Melisandre is also very confused in this book. Throughout the series, she has been an enigma, with her motivations largely unknown. She has always, at least seemingly, been fiercely loyal to Stannis. However, when Stannis left her behind, I wondered if there was not more going on behind the scenes here. With Stannis away attempting to retake Winterfell, it seems as though her role goes much deeper. She seems to go directly against the wishes of Stannis by saving Mance Rayder, and deceiving Stannis in the process. It also seems as though her visions are very much fallible, seeing as she thinks that Jeyne Poole is Arya and that she predicts a Wildling attack on Eastwatch, but later admits that it doesn’t really seem to be Eastwatch. I wonder whether these are mistakes, whether something is wrong with her magic or if she is simply using misdirection to achieve her own ends.
Maybe it is because I really don’t like the Bolton’s, but I also cannot accept that Stannis has been defeated. The story arc of Stannis, Melisandre, Davos and the others seems full of false information and deception. More so than any other, in my opinion. I don’t think that Stannis is dead because in Ramsey’s letter he tells Jon to give him back his bride and Reek, suggesting that either Theon/Reek escaped during the attack (which I find unlikely) or that Mance and his spear-wives were tortured for information.
Although there was very little involving Arya in this novel, I found her chapters not only extremely well written (did anyone else find the scene of “putting on a new face” at once thrilling and terrifying?) and sets her up so very well for her eventual return to the Seven Kingdoms. Although there was not much “action” in Arya’s chapters, I really enjoyed her progress as a character: as an assassin in Braavos, as a master of disguise, as a warg in her interactions with Nymeria (and did anyone else catch the subtle allusion to her looking through the eyes of the cat to spot the Kindly Man?) and as a very adept plotter. The way she assassinated her first target was quite brilliant.
There are some things that I did notice about Arya. First, she has yet to give up her prayer and has trouble giving up her identity as Arya Stark, as evidenced by her frequent lip-biting. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Kindly Man not only knows about the prayer, but allows Arya to hold on to some semblance of her former self. I would assume that the most successful “graduates” of the House of Black and White are not mindless robots who do nothing but follow orders, but rather show streaks of independence and defiance.
I am incredibly curious to see what will bring Arya back to the Seven Kingdoms. Will she be sent to kill someone? Will she be reunited with Nymeria? Is she going to ever get to personally cross any names off of her list?
Martin truly has a knack for making a reader despise a character and then gradually grow to like him / her. This is definitely the case with Theon. With his selfish conquest of Winterfell and his bumbling failures following it, I found myself WANTING him to be punished. But I found myself feeling very sorry for him throughout “A Dance With Dragons.” Seeing Ramsay and his obsession with torture (both physical and psychological) directed toward “Reek” makes Theon a much more sympathetic character. I wanted him to succeed. I wanted him to get away and warn Stannis. I wanted him to be reunited with Asha. To me this was literary genius.
Theon’s rescue of Jeyne Poole, with the help of Mance and his spear-wives (I also loved that Mance is once again disguised as a bard in Winterfell), shows not only his sheer terror of Ramsay, but also his deep seated remorse at what he has done. Or perhaps he is just fulfilling his own selfish desires. Either way, Theon has now gone from the character that I hated for destroying House Stark to a character that I think is going to have a major role in the resolution of the ongoing war in the North.
And really…you have to feel sorry for a guy that has had his penis flayed by the Bastard of Bolton.
Jaime Lannister is another character that I initially hated. Now, he is one of my favorites. I was very happy to get at least a chapter from him in this book, and very curious to see what he is now up to. It is clear that he has pretty much written off Cersei and sees his role in this war as quite different than a simple swordsman. The loss of his sword hand and his relationship with Brienne has really changed Jaime. Not to excuse his crimes, but slaying the Mad King and pushing Bran out of the window in Winterfell seem small compared to many of the other atrocities that have been committed.
We finally get an answer to the question of Varys whereabouts and he reemerges into the story line in a very big way. Killing Kevan and Pycelle ensures that Cersei can continue to run rampant in her insanity and that the kingdom will be divided and at war with itself. There will be no mending the rifts between the Lannister’s and the Tyrell’s, as it can easily be assumed that Cersei will place the blame for the deaths of Kevan and Pycelle at the feet of the Tyrell’s. The Seven Kingdoms will remain in chaos, as Varys planned from the beginning.
This book is DARK. Even with so many active plots in motion, I was left with a feeling of general foreboding after closing out this book. While I think the overarching story, and general conflict, has to do with the Wildings, Winter and Dragons, part of the charm of this story is that no one seems to take this threat seriously. The power moves and machinations of the powerful seem to point to no resolution. The downfall of Jon (even if he is still alive), the stumbling of Stannis and the reemergence of Cersei seem to ensure that this war will not soon be over, and plays directly into the hands of the more subtle players as Petyr and Varys.(less)