Six years in the making; over a thousand pages in length: while A Dance with Dragons has gone on to become an instant super bestseller (as well as the hardcover outselling the eBook edition), sadly the best thing about this book is really that fantastically mesmerizing cover. This mighty tome falls more in line with its less well received and not so well reviewed predecessor, A Feast for Crows, than with the groundbreaking first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire. It seems that time may not be the best thing for George R. R. Martin when it comes to writing his epic series, as he seems to enjoy spending more time describing scenery, and food, and anything gruesome or unpleasant than moving the story along. He goes on tangents, taking trips with new characters that appear to have little bearing on the main plot; or spends literally hundreds of pages with characters readers have come to know so well and love . . . and nothing bloody happens! Martin is becoming what can only really be truthfully described as Jordanian; no he’s not immigrating to Jordan, but writing in the style of the man who became the true master of the “massive mass market,” Robert Jordan.
Warning: here be spoilers.
In the North, around the Wall, King Stannis Baratheon seems to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to do with no real power or army to use, while listening to Lady Melisandre, who continues to spout enigmatic prophecies that make little sense; yet readers do get to enjoy a chapter from her viewpoint for the first time. Meanwhile, Jon Snow is elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, as he must deal with not just enemies beyond the Wall, but also amongst the very men he leads and is in charge of. He works with the wildlings, bringing them south of the wall to bolster his forces in preparation for a possible attack from the Others; it seems to be an interesting act of diplomacy, but goes on for far too many pages, with little action or continuing story taking place.
Much of the rest of the book takes place to the far east. Martin has provided a couple of new maps, but nothing so clearly defined and comprehendible as the great continent of Westeros. Tyrion flees to Pentos, drowning himself in wine. He is forced to join with a group traveling to Meereen, along with the apparently not so dead prince Aegon Targaryen. Tyrion – as he always does – manages to get involved in a whole variety of adventures, including the meeting of another dwarf, and a female no less!
Daenerys is the character that seems most put through the ringer in this book; much like Cercei was in A Feast for Crows. She is no longer the tough, proud, defiant woman that everyone feared, and not just because she has three growing dragons. Having conquered Meereen, she should be the unstoppable, unquestionable queen that she is, and yet insurrection is afoot and Daenerys cannot seem to decide what to do; perhaps it is because she has become obsessed and besotted with one of her soldiers and seems to be able to think of little else when he is nearby, and yet he is of lower class and cannot possibly be her husband. The black dragon, Drogon, meanwhile is running rampant through the countryside as growing “teenage” dragons do, and Daenerys has no idea how to control him.
Finally there is Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, whose story comes from nowhere as we follow his trek across the lands to Meereen, where he hopes to woo Daenerys by enslaving one of her dragons. It does not end well for him. Interspersed throughout the lengthy book are other POV chapters from the likes of Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Reek (who is in fact the very not dead Theon Greyjoy), Arya Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, as well as some surprise cameos from Jaime and Cercei Lannister. These appearances may not have be so incomprehensible if their storylines were allowed to go somewhere, and yet many of them barely get one chapter, leaving the reader wondering why they were ever added to this book in the first place. What was the point? Especially when many hundreds of pages are spent on other main characters, with very little happening with them, other than plenty of description of what they’re wearing, what they’re eating, and what the scenery looks like. Pure Jordanian!
At a recent signing, George R. R. Martin briefly brought up one of his most tumultuous periods in the six-year writing saga of A Dance with Dragons, saying that in a year or two who would discuss it in greater detail once everyone had read the book, but confessing that he had sacrificed at least a year at what he refers to as his “Meereenese Knot,” in trying to decide how events were to transpire and what characters and POVs were to be involved, featuring rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. It seems Martin may have in fact written himself into a deep, dark pit of despair that he hasn’t really been able to write himself out of. Perhaps he should’ve scrapped everything and started again? After sacrificing over a half a decade of his life and the reader’s impatient waiting, he couldn’t exactly do that. Instead, the result is a book that is too long, has too little going on, and falls behind A Feast for Crows in that it is that much longer with less important story happening.
There may be a number of readers under the same delusion suffered by those who professed the excellence and genius of the Star Wars prequels, starting with A Phantom Menace; but over time have come to realize the error of their ways and the true reality of the situation. A Dance with Dragons just simply isn’t that good of a book, but does serve to further the story somewhat, and fill in the details with many words and many pages and little action. At the end readers will certainly be left unsatisfied, as they ponder on the possibilities of the penultimate book in the seven-book series (assuming it will stay at this number) with The Winds of Winter, where winter will supposedly have finally arrived. The question remains: if winter is finally here, how long will it be before readers actually get to read about it?
Originally written on August 9, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.
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