Last night I stayed up until 5 AM so that I could finish reading George R.R. Martin’s latest entry in his Song of Fire and Ice series entitled A Dance with Dragons. As I closed the book, I felt deeply unsatisfied. While it was nice to visit Westeros and its surrounding environs, I didn’t feel quite happy with what was going on in the book.
While I know a series doesn’t tend to resolve in the middle, I’ve found that Martin’s previous stories all finished with a bit more punch; small story lines got some kind of resolution while major story lines evolved. In A Dance… we’re given what feels like filler for some of the main characters, and we peek at the side characters for too short of a time.
I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy the book; on the contrary it was quite acceptable. What bothers me is that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had wanted to. It isn’t as exciting as any of the previous entries into the series, which is disappointing.
Here’s the part where I talk about what actually happened in the book. If you don’t want to know, this would be a good point to stop reading.
Tyrion’s story had quite a bit of potential. He starts out on a journey to find Daenerys and ends it as a member of a mercenary. While I appreciate the idea that anything can happen and that a journey takes many-an-unexpected turns, Tyrion’s brief stint as a jousting dwarf fell flat for me. A new character, Penny (another dwarf) is introduced: she and her dwarf brother used to have a traveling show where the pair of them would joust. Her brother was mistaken for Tyrion back when Joffery was offering gold for the Imp’s head, so she holds Tyrion responsible for her brother’s death.
The relationship between the pair of dwarfs is an interesting and evolving one. As usual Tyrion is at times funny and at times cruel; he is probably my favorite character in the series, so I’m surprised he wasn’t killed.
Like Jon Snow.
Yeah, I figure that the knife wounds that Jon Snow receives at the end of his story line aren’t fatal, but it certainly is possible. I feel like it was put there to be shocking, but it just felt cheap to me. Snow was in the middle of the book’s most intricate story line, and his death makes little and less sense. He is possibly the only person that could manage the Wildlings that he allowed to come South of the Wall. While the folks that killed him aren’t master conspirators, they should know that killing the guy that brokered a shaky alliance with a group of semi-like-minded folks that could easily ravage the surrounding lands for miles is a bad idea.
While I think it is cheap, it is fair to say that I want to find out what happened, so I will probably buy the next book just to find out if Snow is dead or not, and if he is, to see the Wildlings go on a kill crazy rampage.
Daenerys’ story line involves the Middle-Easternish city of Meereen. She freed the slaves, she’s their Queen, the neighboring cities are unhappy about the disruption of the slave trade, she has sexy time with people, and gets married to one of Meereen’s natives so that she can create a peace between her city and its neighbors. All fine and good, but I WANT DRAGONS DAMN IT! GET TO THE DRAGONS!
In the climax of the book, Daenerys rides on a dragon and it is good-ish. She’s set on fire again and we see that she doesn’t burn (unlike other would-be dragon riders in the story: looking at you, the charred remains of Frog) and she mounts Drogon and away they fly with little or no control. I just wish that it didn’t take almost three-quarters of the book to get there. Her story ends with her almost starving and finally getting used to riding the dragon. She’s eating a charred and bloody hunk of horse when one of Drogo’s former pals shows up. And we fade to black.
There are plenty of other side stories that fill out the book: Bran becomes a Greenseer before the middle of the book and then we don’t see him again for the rest of the novel. Theon gets free of his bonds, but his former captor wants him back badly. Stannis’ army marched into a storm and a letter recieved by Jon Snow near the end says that Stannis is dead (I assume it’s a lie, since it’s from Bolton. The letter would have had some of Stannis’ skin in it if Bolton had defeated the King.). Cersei atones for her sins in a walk of shame and starts to scheme again.
All in all, a lot happens in the book, but I was left feeling like it was just a baby step forward. Martin’s series is a juggernaut rolling slowly along: he has so many characters and perspectives that it takes a thousand pages to get them all to walk ten steps. That is a double-edged sword.
For fans of the series, this is a must read because there will inevitably be another two books and this is the bridge. This is certainly not a jumping-on point for new readers, but it isn’t intended to be. Though it is the weakest of the series thus far, being the weakest in a series of superb books isn’t such a bad thing.
Then again, who am I to criticize? I have a hell of a long way to go before I can put together something a quarter as complex and entertaining as A Song of Fire and Ice.