A Dance with Dragons review

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It finally saw the light of day back in July 2011. After six years in the making, A Dance with Dragons, the fifth volume in A Song of Ice and Fire is out. The road to completion for George R.R. Martin was not an easy one and it's now time to analyse the result. I was so eager to read about all the character I grew to love and the games they are playing for power.
The future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance. In the east, Daenerys, last scion of House Targaryen, her dragons grown to terrifying maturity, rules as queen of a city built on dust and death, beset by enemies. Now that her whereabouts are known many are seeking Daenerys and her dragons. Among them the dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, who has escaped King's Landing with a price on his head, wrongfully condemned to death for the murder of his nephew, King Joffrey. But not before killing his hated father, Lord Tywin. To the north lies the great Wall of ice and stone -- a structure only as strong as those guarding it. Eddard Stark's bastard son Jon Snow has been elected the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, but he has enemies both in the Watch and beyond the Wall, where the wildling armies are massing for an assault. On all sides bitter conflicts are reigniting, played out by a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves.
First of all, I have to say that I did enjoy A Feast for Crows even though only half of the PoV from the previous books were present. Some storylines like Brienne's 'trek' were mostly boring but in the end, the Iron islanders, the Dornish Prince family, Jaime and Arya were still compelling enough to keep the book entertaining, bringing worthy new pieces to the set and making the story advance though in a less flaunting way. At any rate, Mr. Martin writing was still first-class. But the potential problem creeping up in Feast is also daunting Dance and all the future books, maybe George is spreading the tale too large, adding to many players in the game of thrones.

At the beginning of Dance, I was mostly eager to read about Jon, Davos, Barristan Selmy and mostly, Tyrion. But in the end, curiously, that's not really where the most interesting chapters come from.  Let's look at the PoVs.

Tyrion. The Imp's speech is still full of crude and sarcastic comments I was craving for but his moods are not at the highest.  His storyline is a long trek where he encounters many inspired characters, from new unexpected players to a good old acquaintance. On the other hand, if I would transpose his narrative to a less interesting character, I'm not sure I would have been satisfied with it. In the same line of thoughts, Jon doesn't have the most thrilling adventures, he sees less action in the physical sense of the term. However in his case, I understand pretty well all he has to go through and even though he wants to keep out of the way when the affairs of the southern kingdoms reach him, at least he tries to remain true to himself and be a good Lord-Commander.  The same could be said for Daenerys. Both of them are learning to rule in their own ways and that doesn't always create suspenseful moments but there are never out of character.

Besides Dany, the old Kingsguard, Ser Barristan Selmy finally gets his time on stage and it felt good to be behind his eyes, George knows who to pick up as the right perspective for a thread. Too bad he is surrounded by so many hard to remember names. Bran story is not getting any clearer in my opinion but his couple of chapters serve to bring him up to pace with the rest of the cast. Furthermore, one of the best parts of the author narrative is Theon's comeback.  You'll understand why I'm using the comeback term when you read the book but let's just say that I never thought that I could feel pity and even almost cheer for the guy anymore but in Dance, he's the one that bring the most emotions for me aside from the ending.

Taking all of this into perspective, the book is not a complete success for me but a satisfying novel nonetheless.  I'm truly happy to have the chance to read again about all these great characters and I know that the pace of George books is often very slow, that the descriptions are rich and in abundance, that every time the author gets the opportunity, he will describe all the food they are eating but I would have thought that more would happen throughout all those pages.  Maybe that's a collateral damage caused by hype... or the result of the split novels.

Moreover, I didn't remember reading so often about recaps (I'll explain) from the characters.  I won't name them in fear of spoiling something but in the case of several protagonists, we follow them wandering the countryside or on the sea for several chapters but then, when something interesting happens, we are told about it in reminiscence from the implicated character perspective instead of experiencing it 'live'.  I think the novel would have benefited from more chapters about those important events instead of the road to get there with a swift recap... Hopefully, many of these proceedings are meant to put the pieces in place and they are in the end great plots with enough twists.

Near the three quarters of the book, some PoVs from Feast make a couple of 'cameos' or even have their storyline resumed for a couple of chapters. This feel a bit weird at first since the characters from the start the book are pushed aside for several chapters in a row but when reaching the end, a feeling of fulfillment comes to the surface.  The overall tale then feels more focused and tightly structured. Add to that the events happening in these last chapters and I felt like the Song of Ice and Fire resumed in all its pending glory.

Feast and Dance could be seen as bridging novels.  In both of them, there's less clashing of armies and less epic battles but the war aftermath of Storm of Swords can't really get back to speed faster.  I understand why the book is written this way and the sense of dragging I've explained doesn't eclipse the masterful storytelling I experienced.

I don't think I really have to talk about world building after five books. The world created by Martin is simply amazing and in Dance, the history behind the alliances and betrayals of old is expanded, the religion of R'hllor is making more noise and the Free cities/Valyria parts of the continent are explored further, Westeros feels less isolated.

Winter has finally come and even though the road to reach it was not a perfectly scribbled endeavor, I think that it was worth the wait. The scope of things to come is mesmerizing.

Technically, the Bantam Spectra cover, the one at the start of the review is good looking and almost all of the alternative covers are generic but nice enough. All the maps necessary, from beyond the wall to the Dothraki Sea are present, which is really really appreciated. The hardcover edition of the book stands at 1040 pages with obviously, all the family trees.

A Dance with Dragons review score :

Characterization............. 8 /10
World building............... 9.5 / 10
Magic system................. 8 / 10
Story.............................. 8 / 10
Writing........................... 8.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10


George R.R. Martin page


Ghost said...

I must say this is one of the few positive reviews I read. Most blogs and reviews I read so far have ravaged the book, making my expectations of it extremely low. This review gave me some hope.

Grant said...

While I enjoyed the book overall I did feel it had major problems. Much of the last two books felt like world building over storytelling.

The worst part for me was that the cliffhangers were more pronounced and left the book feeling incomplete. In the first 3 books of the series the major events for most characters were 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through the novel. Then there would be some resolution to those events and setup for the next book. In Dance every character builds to a cliffhanger which needs to wait for the next book. Several characters (Davos, Bran, Jaime) build to cliffhangers halfway through the book and are simply never heard from again to keep that cliffhanger going for the next book. There is no resolution part of the book.

Still, I enjoyed it overall and will be buying book 6 on day one.

UK said...

So much unresolved, now waiting again hopefully to see at least some of the characters reach thier potential. Had to push myself through some of the chapters while the last 4 books I couldn't put down.

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