Wow. This book was a massive disappointment. When I began this series, I wasn’t expecting much. I wasn’t looking for finely crafted prose or psychologically complex characters – I just wanted a fun, engrossing read. The first four books in this series delivered on that expectation spectacularly. Sure, the prose wasn’t what I’d call great, but it was more than tolerable, truly beautiful even at some moments. I was immensely impressed with Martin’s characterization, though. Not only were the characters themselves complex and motivated by their own agendas, but the writing in each of the chapters reflected each character’s distinct point of view, creating a truly deep sense of character. Despite ridicule from my lit-snob friends, I passionately defended this series.
But after Dance with Dragons, I actually regret defending the series. This book was a disaster, and around page 600 I found myself wondering if anyone had actually read a draft of it before it was published. The overlapping time-frame with A Feast for Crows was completely ineffective and annoying. Going back in time ruined the sense of momentum this series depends on. At the beginning of the novel, Jon Snow is talking to Sam about his upcoming journey, and since I already know how his journey ends from the previous book, Jon’s anxiety about his friends’ future rang false. Plus, this strategy left the two halves of the book disconnected. The first half follows a handful of characters, while the second half tries to juggle around ten of them. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work.
I don’t understand why Martin chose to include so many new POVs, either. It was difficult enough keeping track of the usual cast of characters from the previous four books. Those characters were manageable – why throw in Melisandre (for one single chapter) and Barristan Selmy (for maybe three chapters) at the expense of characters I really wanted to see? It was so disjointed that I found myself skipping ahead to see whose chapters were coming up because I was eager to get back to certain plot lines, while others left me completely cold. There was even a character, who I will refrain from naming, that appeared in the beginning of this book with a promising plot line, only to die at the end. I know he's famous for killing off characters, but this person was new to me so when he or she died, I wasn't moved by it -- I was just wondering why I wasted my time on this character to begin with. Unfortunately, in this book, very little actually happens. With one notable exception, everyone starts and ends in the same place, dealing with the same conflicts. 1,000 pages is a lot of paper to waste on ten characters stagnating.
The nail in the coffin was the indescribably annoying phrase “He was not wrong.” As a writer, I try to keep an eye out for repeated words and phrases in my own writing. The fact that this phrase appeared at least twice in every single chapter is what led me to believe that Martin didn’t actually revise this book. It feels like he wrote it in a few sittings and sent it out to the publisher as soon as he could, because it had been so long since his last installment that he had to publish something. “He was not wrong.” “He was not wrong”. “He was not wrong”. Where did Martin get that phrase, and why is he so enamored with it? Just once, couldn’t he have written “He was right” or “He had a point”? Even by the very low standards I had originally set for this series, the prose in this book was hardly bearable, mostly due to that phrase. If this was the first book in the series, I would have put the book down and never picked up the second one.
I’m massively disappointed, too, because I love the female characters in the previous books – Danaerys, Arya, Brienne, Cersei, Arianne – and I was so excited to see where he was going to go with the plots he had set up in A Feast for Crows. Now… well, I’ll probably still read the next one when it comes out. But I’m going to wait until it comes out in paperback. I seriously regret the $35 I spent on this book.