Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Good, but overly long, with parts sort of dragging and the plots not moving forward in proportion to the length of the book.

A Dance with Dragons Review

(spoilers if you haven't read the first four)

I finally caught up with A Dance with Dragons the fifth book in the George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series while I was out sick for this past long weekend, spending most of the time reading and drinking cup after cup of hot herbal tea.  I was entranced by the book, and yet, by the end a little disappointed.

It had been six or seven years since I read the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire and I debated for almost three years rereading them before starting this one or not, but ended up not spending the time on it.  With too many spoilers on social media from people watching HBO’s Game of Thrones I figured I’d better read it now before the TV series gets up to this part of the story. Fortunately there’s a good wiki online that I could reference for where the characters were and what they’d done in the first four books.

For the most part he goes between points of views of a small number of characters a lot, so once into this book’s stories for them, there isn’t too much going back to remember from years ago.  That mostly comes when switching to a new point of view, or for references to other characters.

Daenerys, Tyrion and Jon Snow make up most of the book, with a few chapters here and there from others, led by Theon Greyjoy and Bran Stark.

Daenerys’s chapters are kind of dull and repetitive till near the end.  Maybe Martin planned that, as it showed her dilemma, she loves her “children” the freed slaves, so much she’s stuck in complete inaction for most of the book.  She can’t leave them, and she can’t lead them, either, out of fear of hurting them.  One major downside of scenes in Meereen is that Martin built up an incredibly richly detailed world in Westeros, but much of the Slaver’s Bay part of Essos feels too cartoonish, not clear, with people having unfamiliar names that hold no meaning to most of us readers.

Jon Snow’s chapters also have a lot of nothing much happening up north at the Wall, and as a reader, I spent a lot of time waiting for some action.  They mostly laid the groundwork for upcoming conflicts, without doing much or going anywhere.

Tyrion’s chapters started slow, with him mostly struggling with father issues he just escaped in Westeros, but then moved things ahead, and had lots of unpredictability from one to the next.  He’s one of the most amusing characters in the series, and by far one of the brightest, so things from his point of view can be fun.  Even when he’s having a bad time he’s busy thinking of how to manipulate everyone around me.

With Theon Greyjoy, who we learned to hate for his earlier betrayal of the Starks, Martin sticks him in situations where we actually begin to feel sympathy for him.  In this book he’s actually not the worst guy in the group he’s with, as hard as it can be to believe…

With a few chapters of Bran Stark we explore magic farther.  He learns more about being a warg and dreaming.

In this book Martin seems to have copy pasted a little bit.  Not the single characters repeating phrases, “words are wind” or “wherever whores go” things, but actual narration and action, a few times.  Two of the young women characters make love to their men the exact same way, with the exact same thoughts while it’s happening, yet there’s no chance they’re friends who’ve exchanged talked or exchanged letters to think alike, and I don’t see that we, as readers, are supposed to see them as parallels for each other.  I think Martin got lazy and copied it.

Similarly, several times that high born characters have to pass for smallfolk, they make the same mistake saying “my lord” and are corrected by another high born character who tells them to slur the words into “m’lord” and “say it like your mouth is full of mud”.  The same wording in unrelated characters and incidents.

And how many times did he write that “they ate bread fried in bacon grease, while the lords and knights above the salt at the bacon”?

The end of the book had a few surprises and cliffhangers, for sure.  Now I’m eagerly awaiting the next one, “The Winds of Winter,” whenever that comes out.

Overall, it was hard to put down, individual chapters felt fast paced and fun.  But honestly, it could’ve been better.  At the end, “word are wind,” and it was a very long book, but the overall stories didn’t feel like they progressed in proportion to the length of the book.