Friday, 22 July 2011

Book Review: A Dance With Dragons

Let me open by saying I am a massive fan of George R.R. Martin’s work. In his A Song of Ice and Fire series, he has created what is probably the best work of fantasy since Tolkien wrote his opus. The depth of characterization, the complexity of the plot, and the excellent writing all make for a truly great series. Nothing being written today in the genre compares. If you haven’t read these books—even if you’re not a fantasy fan—read them now. Like, now! Or at least watch the HBO series (itself remarkably true to the books. From this point forward, spoilers for the books previous to Dance may be written, though I’ll try to avoid any Dance spoilers that weren’t well-known before the book came out.

Harry Potter spoiler: Snape kills Dumbledore. A Song of Ice and Fire spoiler: EVERYONE YOU LOVE IS KILLED
via gameoflols

A Dance with Dragons picks up where A Storm of Swords left off, following the events in the east (Tyrion and Daenerys) and at the wall (Jon Snow). Eventually, it catches up with the events of A Feast For Crows, and we see a number of returning viewpoints.

As always, Martin’s writing is spectacular. The prose is engaging, and the constant cliffhangers leave you always wanting more. The entire series is next to impossible to put down.

One of my most hated characters in the series has always been Theon Greyjoy—at least since the events of the second book. Whenever he came onscreen I would gloomily mutter, “Fuck you, Theon,” to myself. However, in this book, he has actually become someone worth rooting for. How does this turn around? Ramsay Bolton.

We got a little bit of the Bastard of Bolton in A Storm of Swords, but now we truly see how horrific a man is. He is probably the most axe-crazy guy in the entire series. And for y’all who have read this, that’s saying something. I mention it because it shows how adept Martin can be at manipulating his audience when he wants to. Taking someone I reviled and turning him into someone I practically cheered for? Well played.

The most agonizing moment came at the end of one of the final chapters had me shouting “NO!” at the book, only to have my protests reduced to a low whimper as I turned the page.  It’s a massive spoiler, so no more for now.

A common complaint that I’m seeing online is that, while the Westeros stories are engaging, the Essos stories revolving around Dany and Meereen drag. In hindsight, this is to a certain extent true. But to me, this did not truly disrupt the flow of the book. The problem is that Martin is setting up his chess pieces for the final two books—there’s a lot of maneuvering, but not a whole lot of checkmates. I fully understand this, and it doesn’t bother me at all. I actually really enjoy seeing Martin maneuver! Just know that there isn’t much resolution in Dance. It truly raises more questions than it answers.

What I did miss was Sansa and Sam’s POVs. I don’t really care about Sansa, but I wanted to read about Littlefinger! And Sam is one of my favorites, even moreso now that we know the maesters are up to… Something.
Mmmm... Frey...

In terms of favorite characters? Barristan the Bold came into his own, serving as a highly effective foil to Quentyn Martell. Both are idealists, but Barristan has the experience to fit his idealism into reality—and that makes all the difference. It was good to see the return of Jon Snow. Tyrion was fun, but much darker after the events at the end of A Storm of Swords. His and Jaime’s relationship had always been one of my favorite in the series, but that seems shot to hell now. I’m glad to see Ser Robert Strong is back, and I’m looking forward to that plotline developing in King’s Landing. Lord Manderly gets a special shout out for me as my favorite “new” character. He was a true Magnificent Bastard. Think about what’s in his pies. 

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