on April 5, 2012
I'm Varamyr Sixskins. I'm here for the prologue to set us all up for the impending horrors of the North and all the excitement to come...
I'm Tyrion Lannister, the most popular character in all of Westeros! I spend this book meandering down a really slow river, ruminating bitterly about my life, misplacing my former charm, eroding all the goodwill I built up in the other books, and wondering where the whores go. Though perhaps I should have been wondering where the plot went. I also observe turtles and women, play board games, mouth off to all and sundry, and coincidentally run into various characters like some wandering monster in a D&D campaign. Maybe I'll make it to Daenarys in the next book, but at least I ditched that pig.
I'm Asha Greyjoy. I don't have much to do, so I'll be the POV character keeping track of Stannis and his forces. At the beginning of Dance with Dragons, he's working his way towards Winterfell to take it back from the Boltons. At the end of Dance with Dragons, he's...working his way towards Winterfell to take it back from the Boltons. Hope that helps.
I'm Ser Davon Seaworth, the Onion Knight. I'm still running errands for Stannis and getting captured frequently. It's a living.
I'm Bran Stark. I am a tree.
I'm Daenarys Targaryen. I'm only a young girl, and I know little in the ways of war, governance, what have you. I used to think I said these things to misdirect people, but as of DoD it seems to be true. I spend my time taking baths, fretting, being wishy-washy, and mooning over this hot mercenary dude. In the end I learn that "you have to go back to go forward." I would have thought that going backwards would be the last thing that this book needs, but I am only a young girl and know little of the ways of story advancement.
I'm Aegon Targaryen. I appear for the first time in book five as the long thought dead son of Prince Rhaegar and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. I know, right? What a surprise! It's like I was just pulled from thin air! I spend much of the book traveling to Daenarys, but then I change my mind and go and invade Westeros without her. Sort of. No one important has noticed yet. See you in the next book!
I'm Griff, aka Jon Connington. I'm here to get Aegon Targaryen on the Iron Throne. I tried to tell that kid not to wait until the fifth book to show up if he wants to be king. Now nobody's invested in us. We're like, peripheral characters or something. Nobody cares. I (*sniff*) just want someone to care, you know?
I'm Theon Greyjoy. Turns out I'm not dead, though I rather wish I were. It's been rough. On the bright side, my chapters were some of the only highlights of this bloated beast of a book. I even got to be almost a hero at the end! Can't wait for the next book. Redemption arc ahoy! People like me now!
Tyrion: Settle down sailor. You're not really a major character, and people still don't like you.
I'm Jaime Lannister. I snuck in to steal a chapter just like I would steal a kiss from my sweet sister. Oh look, there's Brienne! She's not dead after all. Whatever could have happened? Oops, we gotta go now, so I'll guess we'll never know. Blink and you'll miss us!
I'm Ser Robert *cough*Gregor*cough* Strong *cough*not dead*cough*. Gregor SMASH!
I'm the Hound. You know, I strongly suspect that I might not be dead either.
Tyrion: Quiet, you. No one even mentions you in this book.
I'm Wyman Manderly. I'm a minor character, but I bring a bit of awesome anyway. I was last seen bleeding from a neck wound. I wonder if I'll die. Your guess is as good as the author's.
I'm John Snow. I command the wall and defend Westeros from the horrors of the North. I count sides of beef and sausages, receive messages, meet with my staff, greet newcomers, and find bedrooms for all the wildings. Seriously, am I a commander or a butler? It's the end of the book already, we need some action! I'll march on Winterfell and retake it from the cursed Boltons! Away we go! Oh, dang it. Stabbed from all sides. There goes that plan. It sure does seem like I'll die now...
I'm Quentyn Martell. I'm kind of a side plot that has no impact at all on the main story. Then I die. But the good news is that I really am dead for sure!
I'm Melisandre. I get a chapter where I play with fire and see things and act all cryptic with people. Well, I have to amuse myself somehow. It's booorrring at the wall.
I'm Victarion Grayjoy.
Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main!
This book will end
Before I meet
I'm Aero Hota. Don't worry, I don't really remember who I am either. Not much to see here, anyway.
I'm Cersei Lannister. I get two chapters of humiliation. I can has some of Theon's reader sympathy now? No? Well then. I won't forget this. A Lannister always pays his debts...maybe in the next book.
I'm Ayra Stark. I'm in two chapters, too, and I kill someone, like I always do. But this time it's different; this time someone told me to. That's progress. Maybe someday I'll kill someone who has something to do with the main story.
I'm Barriston Selmy. I putter around Meereen, trying in some small way to advance the plot. Alas, to little avail. I'm too old for this.
I'm Kevan Lannister. I waited a thousand pages for a POV and all I got was this lousy epilogue and a quarrel in the chest. Oh well. At least I'm well and truly done with this mess.
We're the Others. We are the horror of the North and theoretically the real Big Bad Threat in this series. It's five books in, and we still haven't really gotten to do anything yet. To be honest, we're too bored to bother any more. We're going to invade Canada instead and subdue them to our icy will. Apologies everyone!
Hugs and kisses!
on July 14, 2011
Edited: 3/20/2013 (I re-read the book, wanting to give it another chance after watching the very well done television series, but my feelings generally remain the same with some new insights)
Warning: I do not give specific story spoilers, but some of my comments can be considered spoilers to the structure of the story.
So, to lighten the blow a little first, I will make it clear that I am a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Like many others, I think the first three books were some of the best fantasy books in recent history. They held my interest like few others, took directions many other writers would not dare to take and had me itching to read the next. I'm a fan who checked on the status of this book at least a couple dozen times through each year to see how the progress was coming and I'm a fan who also believes in a writer taking the time he or she needs to do it properly. While I honestly was a little impatient to read the next book (which is a good thing, unless you're attacking the author over it), I could not fault someone for wanting to do other things with their lives.
As far as the positives for A Dance with Dragons specifically, Martin continues to show a strong and addicting narrative style with a great attention to detail without going too overboard most of the time. His use of language remains strong with some good character insights and quotes derived from it, and there are a number of moments in the book that were intriguing. These are the reasons why I gave it three stars and if a lesser writer had authored the book, I probably would have never finished it.
And before I go into my criticisms of the book, there is something I would like to note. While I often take the side of artists in artistic work, we have to be honest in realizing that the book series is also a commodity. It is not something just written for artistic purposes. When something is put on the market for sale, it is subject to the scrutiny of its consumers.
That said, A Dance with Dragons (and A Feast for Crows) bored me in comparison to the first three books, and while I would like to read how the story ends, I am hesitant to invest more time and money into the book series. I may just be a customer, reader, and fan, so what would I know about editing, story-building, etc., and GRRM may be the professional writer and it went through professional editors, but they still made a cardinal writing error that I so often hear you should not make:
They did not keep the story moving. By the end of the book, I felt almost nothing happened.
I believe at this point in a book series' life, the story needs to be picking up faster and faster. You need down times of course, and a little exposition in each book to get everyone up to speed again is a good thing...but not through the majority of the book. Things need to happen and you need to have control of the story.
I'll give an example. Say you saw a fight at work and you are telling someone about it. You would probably give them a lead up and let them know it was at work between two employees who were not getting along recently, you would probably give them background information like the significant other of one of the employees was cheating with the other employee. You may talk about how another employee that was friends with both revealed that information and hence, betrayed one of those friends. Then, you would describe the fight and its aftermath.
What you would probably not talk about is how you stubbed your toe on the way to the car to get to work, the more scenic route that you happened to take that morning, or what you ate at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or describe in exhausting detail your work duties leading up to the point of the fight. No one cares about these details and you are slowing the story down to a crawl. And say you do all this, even talk about the events related to the actual fight, then you do not actually get to the fight and say, "I'll tell you about the fight next time."
Now, imagine that fight being told by seventeen other people, including people who are near irrelevant to the story. This is what A Dance with Dragons felt like to me. The drawn out version of a story with a poorly handled cliffhanger.
I really feel that Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons are books that maybe shouldn't have been written or at the very least, heavily edited. I could even say that they could have been condensed into one book between 500-700 pages axed between the two of them (and still have time to put in events that could have made them better). I understand that the author originally planned a time skip by five years after Storm of Swords and honestly, I felt that would have been better. Between the two books, I just felt very little moved forward in terms of the actual story and they could have easily been left out without hurting the overall story.
Of course, there will be many people (probably the majority) disagreeing with me and that is their full right to do so. We're all entitled to our opinions. If you loved Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons or just love to soak up everything you can from the story's world, then that's awesome. If you felt you got your money's and time's worth, then that is great. I wish I could have enjoyed them as much as you. I really do.
But I didn't.
On that note, I hope that The Winds of Winter will be a return to form for Martin's writing. However, after the last two books, I know better than to purchase it on day one, and depending on the feedback it gets, I may opt to not purchase it at all and check it out from a library, instead. And I am not entirely sure I will even do that, I'm sad to say.
on August 20, 2012
I really liked the earlier books! Really! In fact, the two stars are primarily as a "Lifetime Achievement Award" (5 for the first 3 books, minus 1 for book 4, minus 2 for book 5). GRRM has either gotten senile or greedy (in a Peter Jackson - "Hey, lets make THREE movies out of the Hobbit" - kind of way). Anyway, as others have pointed out, almost nothing actually happens in this book. And there is no convergence either - in fact, instead of threads being pulled together, more threads are randomly added. There are now so many open threads that it is practically impossible for the series to end in two more books, without the introduction of a space-time warp that will magically land every character in the middle King's Landing with their swords, direwolves and dragons.
To list the open threads that I can think of (SPOILER ALERT!!!):
1. Daenerys - After proving her child-like incompetence at actually ruling (paraphrasing Che Guevara - "Blowing up trains is easy. It's a lot more difficult to make them run on time"), she has now met up with a new khalasar and has her favorite dragon in tow. She will now use her new army to attack Meereen (again) and screw things up (again). Or she will lay waste to Qarth. Or she will march on Westeros (finally), although why she didn't do that with her army of Unsullied is anyone's guess.
2. Jon Snow - In keeping with GRRM's "Screw Ned Stark and his family" approach to writing, Jon has been knifed, Caesar-like, by his comrades. However, since he has not been definitively declared dead, he will probably be brought back to life by Melisandre (a la Beric Dondarrion and Catelyn) and then go off to fight the Others as the harbinger of Light.
3. Tyrion - Having thrown in with Ben Plumm he will now wait for Dany's next move. If she marches back to Meereen they may finally meet (hooray). If she marches on Westeros, he will spend another 1000 pages looking for where the whores go.
4. Bran - He has now become an honorary child of the forest and a full-fledged warg. What he can or will do with these powers is anyone's guess - since all he has done till now is spook Theon in the Winterfell weirwood.
5. Stannis - Last seen gnashing his teeth in the snow. Since he has spent all of book 5 in that state, it is probable that he is permanently frozen and will eventually show up in Madame Tussaud's. The Bolton's claim to have killed him, but since that would be blessed relief for all concerned, it's probably a ruse.
6. Theon Greyjoy - Last seen with the fake Arya in Stannis' camp, missing sundry toes, fingers and teeth. If there is any closure or justice in this fictional world, he will kill Ramsay Bolton. But there isn't, so he won't.
7. Asha Greyjoy - Reunited with Theon. Life sucks if you are a Greyjoy. In fact, if you are ironborn you should probably consider killing yourself.
8. Arya - By the time she finally becomes a Faceless Woman, everyone else in the story will be dead of natural causes. Since she is no one, she won't care. She will be kick-ass in the next Assassin's Creed game, though.
9. Rickon - No one knows where he is. He will go on a quest in book 7. He will meet no other primary character till book 10, and since he had the misfortune to be born a Stark, GRRM will promptly kill him.
10. Sansa - I so totally don't care about Sansa. Hopefully one of the dragons will eventually cook and eat her.
11. Littlefinger - We know he is plotting, scheming and plotting some more. We have no clue about what. He and Varys will be the ones left standing when all else is gone. They will duke it out man-to-ahem for total control of Westeros. Littlefinger will lose, overcome by grief when Sansa gets cooked and eaten. He will retire to the woods and spend the rest of his days with the re-animated Catelyn.
12. Loras Tyrell - Spends books 4 and 5 in a grievously wounded state. Shows no signs of either recovering or dying. He will probably come back as a man-machine (see below: The Mountain).
13. Margery Tyrell - She shows all the signs of growing up into what Cersei would have been had Robert loved her.
14. Cersei - The small percentage of King's Landing's population that hadn't had sex with her already gets to at least see her naked. She continues to plot the destruction of all of her enemies, which list includes everyone in the world.
15. Tommen - Plays with small animals and Margery. Will probably die soon.
16. Jaime - Secures the Riverlands while showing off his newfound negotiating skills. Sets off on a quest to find the Stark kids with Brienne. The two of them will almost certainly hook up eventually and have beautiful sons and ugly daughters.
17. Brienne - Continues her miserable existence and fails at pretty much everything she tries (I will protect Renly - oops. I will now protect Catelyn Stark - oops. I will get Jaime to King's Landing - sorry about the hand. I will find Sansa and Arya - please don't hang me, damn!). Apparently still alive - may just be to make babies with Jaime.
18. Varys - Turns out he was a Targaryen sympathizer all along. All that talk about serving the realm without caring about who was on the throne was all hogwash - dragons rule, man! See Littlefinger, above - Varys will eventually rule the world as a composite King/Queen.
19. Sam - Has reached the Citadel (was that in book 4?). Has set some things in motion. Doesn't know what. Does he become a Maester or do he and Gilly hook up? Does anyone care?
20. Catelyn - Was dead but is now undead. Killed a Frey or two, and then sentenced Brienne to death. In an ironic twist of fate, she and Jon Snow will live on together as apostles of the light. She will so totally hate him for it.
21. Doran Martell - His gout keeps getting worse, as will his ulcers when he finds out what happened to his son. He had one plan, which has now been burnt to a crisp. Looks like he may have to let the viper's daughters loose after all.
21a. Quentyn Martell - Winner of a Darwin award. Tried to break in to the dragon's lair and ride off with one. Burnt to a crisp. Thankfully this is one thread that is really closed. Unless it isn't.
22. The Hound - Supposedly died of an infected wound. But his spirit (and helm) live on - this may eventually have some significance, though I suspect not.
23. The Mountain - Supposedly died of poisoning, but in the most obvious literary build-up of all time, has been reconstituted into some sort of man-machine-monster (aka RoboCop). He and Loras Tyrell's reconstituted man-machine (see above) will have an epic death match when Cersei and Margery choose them as their champions at their respective trials. This will be a recreation of their duel in the tourney in book 1 - at least something will come full circle.
24. Aegon Targaryen - GRRM's afterthought (How can I make this book even bigger? Hmm, what if I make another Targaryen live?). Has attacked Westeros to impress Dany. Neither Dany nor anyone else has noticed or cares.
25. Jon Connington - Aegon's protector/advisor/general/hand. Trying to make up for his abject failure as Aerys' Hand. Leading the attack on Westeros, but bad PR has failed him.
26. Ser Barristan Selmy - Has successfully overthrown Hizdahr in Meereen, and will now lead a dumb-ass attack on the siege armies. Man knows not when to hang up his boots. Will serve Dany till Aegon comes along.
27. Victarion Greyjoy - Sailing, sailing to find (and marry) Dany and the dragons. We all know how that ends.
28. Euron Greyjoy - Waiting, waiting for Victarion to return with Dany and the dragons (whom he will then marry). We all know how that ends. The ironborn should seriously just drown themselves.
29. Davos Seaworth - The travelling salesman, has visited many a Lord to win them over to Stannis. Keeps losing his ships everywhere he goes - not quite what you would expect from a sailor/smuggler.
30. Mance Rayder - Helps Theon escape. May or may not be a captive of the Boltons at Winterfell. Will eventually lead the wildlings against everyone.
31. Roose and Ramsay Bolton, the Frey clan - Mean little bitches. Will get their just desserts from somebody, but who? Catelyn, Theon, Jon, Stannis?
32. Gendry - You would think there would be a point to bringing Arya Stark and King Robert's bastard son together in books 1 and 2, but since then he has been stuck with the Dondarrion rebels, doing jack.
Whew! That's all I can think of at the moment, though I'm sure I've missed quite a few. If you guys think this is all coming together in the near future, you've been smoking something strong. HBO has a "Days of Our Lives" on their hands.
on July 21, 2011
Warning, there are spoilers below.
I really wanted to enjoy dance, bad. As upset as i was with the 5 year wait to get the second half of a mediocre book...i was really willing to give it a chance. I bought it the second it came out, brought my kindle with me everywhere so i could read it in my down time - paid close attention and picked up on little subtle things others might have missed - all this, and i was still disappointed. (not in the Kindle tho, this thing is awesome, and no I'm not getting paid to say this. It's perfect for someone who travels a lot for work).
It really boils down to this - it doesn't feel like Martin enjoys writing about this world anymore. His behavior reinforces this feeling, too. It's like he's just bored of this world and has lost that energetic spark to create.
Reading the first three books, it was like a man excited about the world he was building, excited about the stories, the characters, excited about what he was going to DO with them and he wanted to get there as smoothly and quickly as possible. Remember when Catelyn left for King's Landing in one chapter, and then arrived there next chapter? It's because the journey was unimportant - that stuff was filler - what happened to her IN King's Landing was important.
Reading the last two, it was like he wasn't really sure what to do anymore, he couldn't figure out where he was going, he just had to fill up the pages with something, and he kept thinking back and forth on what to write. adding, deleting, adding, deleting - this is a worrisome sign when indecision, apathy, and indifference about a tale begin to rear their ugly head.
It's this energetic drive when you have a story you want to tell. But I didn't get that here from Martin, which is disappointing, because the man has genuine talent. He just doesn't seem to be inspired enough to use it. I never got the impression of a clear vision. I didn't get a sense of his excitement for these characters. It shows up in a lot of ways - the tired cliches, the empty characterizations of the main viewpoints - it feels like Dance was a homework assignment to him, a very unwelcome homework assignment. "This one was a three bitches and a bastard", indeed it was, and that feeling comes across in his writing style.
I really just feel he's bored and out of ideas. He's tired of Westeros, he isn't sure what to do anymore, and he's just stringing things along with random WTF moments thrown in to try and maintain our interest and fake excitement. It's similar to sudden loud sounds or 'GOTCHA' moments in bad scary movies; using cheap tricks to try and evoke a sense of fear when the plot itself can't.
There are only a few moments where I get a sense of the old Martin. Reading Theon's chapters were interesting. Theon actually had an arc, an evolution, and you got the sense that George enjoyed telling this story. Too bad he had to ruin it with yet another cliffhanger ending. In fact, this was one of the few true cliffhangers in the book, in my opinion. The other 'cliffhangers' were never set up properly and are more like 'dangling threads' that came out of nowhere.
We have Jon getting the Caesar treatment, Stannis marching on Winterfell, Theon and Jeyne escaping, Aegon landing in Westeros, the situation on the Wall, the Pink Letter... Too much buildup here with too little payoff!
And then one of the big cliffhanger moments from the first book - Brienne - gets barely a mention in this! We are left to deduce what she most likely said and her agreement to lead Jaime to UnCat in return for her life - yet another plotline that goes nowhere. At the end of the book, effectively, nothing big or major has happened that we can see the result of. Dany is basically back where she started, realizing she should have gone to Westeros. The entire sideshow in Meereen has effectively accomplished nothing. A lot of interesting things happen to the characters that are ultimately irrelevant. The Others are still persona non grata, mentioned only in shadows. Dragons still haven't returned. Stannis hasn't really conquered anything meaningful. Tommen is still king. Dorne is still 'progressing'. The Ironborn are still the same. Not enough major action has happened. I can accept one book of mostly filler, but two? A Dance with Dragons feels like it was written to meet a word count! What's next, he goes through and increases the font size on all the periods to add some more volume? He might as well, it'd be just as entertaining.
The problem is, Martin could have easily given us at least one big climax in this book. You could have given us a Meereen showdown with results, you could have given us Jon's "death" and obvious rebirth as Azhor Az'hai or whatever, you could have given us the Others finally attacking in force, you could have given us Victarion or Tyrion meeting Dany, you could have given us the battle of Winterfell and the results - there are so many things he could have done that we don't get to see. He could have given us the first use of Dragons in war, and that would have fit right in the with the title. I don't mind cliffhangers, but really we should have gotten SOMETHING resolved in this book so it doesn't feel like a giant tease.
The few redeeming moments for me - Selmy, Wyman's awesomeness ("So young" said Wyman Manderly. "Though mayhaps this was a blessing. Had he lived, he would have grown up to be a Frey."), "Would you like Freys with that", Theon - simply don't add enough to justify book for me.
If you enjoy reading detailed prose, and seeing a world being built by a very skilled author, you might enjoy this. If you're a huge fan of everything remotely to do with the world Martin has skillfully created, then you will find a lot here to fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, most of those blanks were blank for a reason - we just didn't care. I still don't.
If you're a fan of an engaging, interesting plot - the sort of plot that we saw in the first three books - I'd give it a pass.
PS: Martin may denounce us here at Amazon as trolls and sockpuppets, but I think that makes a mockery of the good rating system that has made Amazon so useful for people like me in the past. Mr. Martin, if you read this, please make note of the 'verified purchaser' next to this review. I'm a real person, with a real opinion.
on August 24, 2011
(why yes, I am mocking GRRM's stylistic excess as part of this review)
He broke his fast with boiled neeps, and shivering stew, washed down with a flagon of Dornish ale. The grease from stewed salt pork clung to his gristly beard as he donned a slashed velvet doublet of purple satin, emblazoned with the crest of Ser Eddard Bauer. Over his smallclothes, he wore black pantaloons. He clambered into his Honda and began the short journey west, bearing northwards along the interstate. He turned left, edging his way past opposing traffic. If I look back, I am lost.
His office was a dull brown keep that sat astride the Crown Road. His desk was hidden behind a soundproofed beige cubicle and was lined with a faux wood finish. Reek, reek, it rhymes with teak.
He had finished A Dance with Dragons not a noonsday before and wondered if in truth he had finished the entire series. George R. R. Martin is so constipated from the fawnings of his lickspittles and self-indulgent side stories that he's not like to drop another turd of a novel anytime soon, if the last decade has told it true, he thought to himself.
He smirked at his own witticism. "It is known" he said aloud to himself.
To tell it true, he had enjoyed several parts of the novel. Jon Snow's first chapter was strong, as were the Bran and Davos chapters. He'd not expected that. Many of the early story arcs had glistened wetly with promise but of these Martin had written little and less as the book wore on. Of Dany's aimless navel-gazing, there'd been much and more. Asha and Victarion vied for the distinction of the most pointless Greyjoy POV. Ariane Martell had twisted her teats for naught, for her brother Quentyn's chapters proved to be as useless as nipples on a breastplate. Gods be good, he thought, the fat man teased us with Feast's Dorne chapters for.... this?
And Jaime... that had been the cruelest jape of all. Best that Martin had left out his sole chapter. Though, given the masturbatory excess of Dance's prose, Martin could have learned a thing or two from a man who'd had to make do without his sword hand.
The epilogue was a satisfying end to an unsavory meal, but even the most succulent lemoncake doesn't salvage a bland and unfilling meal of gruel. In truth, it should've been left in A Feast for Crows, along with Cersei's chapters. At least then at least one of the novels from the last ten years would've amounted to more than a mummer's farce.
He set down his copy of A Dance with Dragons with an unsatisfying thud. Words are wind, he mused. Speaking of which... He raised a leg and broke his word. It smelt of stale bacon grease and mashed neeps.
By then, his bladder was full to bursting from the morning's coffee, so he headed to the latrine before he pissed his smallclothes. Reek, reek, it rhymes with leak. Along the way, he passed the receptionist from the adjoining office. She was a pretty brown-haired thing, a woman of about four-and-twenty, fully flowered.
"Where do whores go?", he asked her.
She slapped him.
He entered the men's bathroom and undid his breeches. The urinals were crofted from gleaming white porcelain and bore the seal of American Standard. Whilst it received his golden stream of the morning's piss, he contemplated how this was a metaphor for how Ser Martin had raised the leg and done the same to the continuity of A Song of Ice and Fire and the first three books.
He angrily composed an e-mail to Martin's editor whilst zipping up his breeches. He was only a man grown, unskilled in the ways of editing, but such was his wroth.
You know nothing, Anne Groell...
on July 14, 2011
In "A Dance with Dragons," George R.R. Martin seems to have ripped out a page from his own self-written guide to writing a good story, and replaced it with a page from Robert Jordan's version - and in both cases, the change was very much for the worse.
The page he borrowed could charitably be called "Setup," or "Preparation," or even given some grandiose description about the "careful movement and positioning of critical pieces on a game board." In practical terms, though, it comes down to "Delay," "Pointless Stalling," and would be more accurately summed up as "an entire book about multiple characters wandering slowly across the world to approach - but never reach - a place in which something interesting has the potential to happen." For example, everyone's favourite dwarf has a simple goal: he wants to throw in his lot with the dragon queen, offering her whatever advice and wisdom he can. A noble goal, that, and one that would do a great deal to move the story along - his cynicism would open her eyes about some pretty important things. But does he make it to her? Not in this book! No, he's far too busy being packed into barrels like Bilbo the hobbit, swapping tales with cheese lords, being lost, found, sold, and bought, falling in with slaves and signing paper for sellswords, and even being saddled with a plucky lady-dwarf sidekick who continually tells him that he should stop causing trouble and just focus on making the big people laugh, because that's what dwarves are for. In Westeros during the previous four books, he was known and feared as Tyrion of House Lannister, Halfman to the wild mountain tribes, former Hand of the King, unsung hero of Blackwater Bay, the Imp, kinslayer and Kingslayer both; in Essos during this book, all he really manages to do is play a lot of Stratego, reminisce about a previously-unmentioned happy boyhood of gymnastics training in the art of dwarfish capering, and fall convincingly off a trained pig.
The same song is sung throughout the book: nobody actually *gets* anywhere. In Meereen, Daenerys mopes, sighs, tosses her braids, and moons over a pretty boy. On the Wall, Jon Snow hems, haws, asks everyone within earshot for advice on what to do, then completely ignores all of the advice to do something entirely different while complaining about how nobody supports him. Stannis grits his teeth, Melisandre misinterprets prophecies, Dolorous Edd makes comments about mules. A new character is introduced who represents either the most vibrantly crimson scarlet of red herrings, or George R.R. Martin on waterskis leaping majestically over a great white shark; the jury's still out on the kid, but it *is* safe to say that he spends half the book marching determinedly in one direction before abruptly turning around and charging off on completely the opposite course.
And then, there's the issue of the page missing from this book, the page that had elevated the first three books so high above the likes of Goodkind or Jordan. It's the page called "Caprice," or "Injustice," or maybe "Nobody is Safe." It's the page on which he knowingly and thoroughly subverted the standard fantasy tropes of good triumphing over evil, of all death being either deserved (if the deceased was a bad guy, like for instance an orc) or deeply meaningful (a sacrifice, like Boromir dying to protect the hobbits). The previous books used that page, and used it well. No character was sacred: anyone could die at any time, for any reason - or for no reason at all - because the world was a cruel and merciless and fickle place, and justice and honor and fair treatment were exceptions rather than rules.
In "A Dance with Dragons," though - and in "A Feast for Crows," to an extent - that page is notably absent. The Onion Knight, by this point, has gone through more lives than the average cat; while I have great fondness for the character, I almost wish Martin *would* kill him off just so the poor soul could rest. Whenever Arya gets a knife pressed against her throat, it turns out to be a well-meaning rescuer offering her a haircut. Mance dies then reappears good as new, Catelyn died and reappeared (somewhat the worse for wear, in her case), ghosts from the past pop up alive and well and living in the Westerosi equivalent of Paris. At this point, I'm more than half-expecting Khal Drogo to ride up on a skeletal horse and say "Hey Dany babe, I busted out of the nightlands, let's cross the poison water before my afterlife parole officer finds out I'm here." A Song of Ice and Fire has gone from "Nobody is Safe" to "Every Main Character is Totally Safe at this Point," and the suspense is just *gone*.
So, after all that, do I regret reading "A Dance with Dragons"? No. The sad truth is, even a mediocre George R.R. Martin book is better than most of the other offerings in the genre. My thoughtful boyfriend bought it for me on iBooks the very hour it was released, and I'm sincerely grateful that he did, and I'll buy and enjoy the next one just as promptly.
But even though this book was good enough, it can't help but suffer by comparison to the others. On its own merits, I rated "A Dance with Dragons" 3/5 stars; compared to the magnificence of the first three, though, it's more like a 1.5/5.
on August 6, 2011
Reality can be harsh to happy endings. Evil is not always defeated, the hero does not always get the girl, and nobody ever really lives happily ever after. That's fantasy.
Take, for example, the tale of a plucky fantasy author, battling to finish his life's work, who overcomes a six-year-long bout of writer's block to at last complete the fifth installment in his epic. It would be nice to think that the book thus produced was worth the wait. That would be the happy ending. But reality can be harsh to happy endings. "A Dance with Dragons" is not the book I waited six years to read, and to wish otherwise would be fantasy.
George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series was never mere fantasy, but with each new volume, it is becoming more and more a daytime soap opera.
Mr Martin famously spent the second half of the 80s working in television, and if I may jump to unwarranted conclusions, this experience seems to have helped him break new ground by infusing fantasy with some of the best aspects of TV--sharply-drawn, sympathetic characters, crisp, witty dialogue, and intricate plotting.
He's also made clever use of catchphrases and personal mottoes to provide a kind of leitmotif to each character's story and give a sense of continuity and cohesion to the tale: "A Lannister always pays his debts", "If I look back, I am lost", "You know nothing, Jon Snow." More famously, he's gotten good mileage from his willingness to kill off seemingly key characters at surprising moments.
Maintaining such a high standard of writing for even one book would have been an impressive feat. Mr Martin managed it for three, stumbled on the fourth, and after 20-odd years working on the series, the fatigue is beginning to show.
The personal catchphrases continue to get good airtime, with "a Lannister always pays his debts" featuring five times, "If I look back, I am lost (or doomed)" six times, and "You know nothing, Jon Snow" an impressive 13. However, much of the other writing has become simply repetitive and lazy. The phrase "words are wind" also pops up 13 times in various character's mouths, "much and more" (meaning "a lot") gets used as hefty 30 times, but this is pipped for the number one spot by "(s)he was not wrong", at a teeth-gritting 33 times. These phrases have become less a leitmotif, more a pianist banging the same three chords over and over again.
As part of the series' gritty image, Mr Martin has never been shy about including sex in his stories, but now he appears to be shoehorning it in, simply for its own sake. One character spends the night before a siege having graphic sex. Another pays a surprise visit to one of his generals--and interrupts the latter mid-coitus. A description of a man being burned at the stake takes time out to tell us what happens when the fire reaches his genitals.
The habit of killing off characters has likewise devolved into self-parody. Having already killed off most of the expendables, Mr Martin spends most of "A Dance with Dragons" only appearing to kill off characters, but not really. One is apparently executed, but isn't. Another appears to drown, but doesn't. Yet another seems to be beheaded, but--well, you get the idea. The effect is a bit like the boy who cried wolf, and cheapens the book's finale, in which two key characters appear to die, since by then the reader doesn't believe for minute Mr Martin will actually follow through.
The other major drawback to the wholesale slaughter among named characters is that Mr Martin spends much time introducing a slate of new characters in much the same way that the old Star Trek series used to introduce new red-shirts.
What is left? Plot, but not much of it. Most of the characters spend their time somnolently staggering from A to B. There are sporadic bouts of frenetic action, to be sure, but the story itself continues to plod along, fairly aimlessly as far as I can see. With no resolution to any of the major plot lines anywhere in sight, it's increasingly hard to care about any of the latest crop of characters, knowing they probably won't live much longer than halfway through the next book (when and if it is ever published). It's only in the handful of chapters that "Dance with Dragons" shakes off its lethargy and wraps up in a number of cliffhanger endings.
I would like to believe the series will get better, that all questions will be answered, all the plot lines will come together, but if there's one thing Mr Martin has taught me, it's not to believe in happy endings.
on July 19, 2011
GRRM's latest installment of his sprawling, epic series A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), A Dance with Dragons (ADWD) demonstrated some progress in Martin's and his editors' process if not the plot of the series. The last book, A Feast for Crows (AFFC) brought the entire series to a grinding halt, with the primary characters and plotlines of the first 3 books being swept aside for a peek into the other side of the struggle for power in Westeros and painfully, didactically depicted travel sequences. ADWD brings us back to the stories and struggles of the characters for whom fans developed positive regard over the first 3 books. For the first 500 pages of the book, we are given spots of improved editing, most notably during the travel sequences. In AFFC, pages upon pages upon chapters upon chunks of the book are spent describing not the trials and travails of traveling in a Medieval world, but the monotony of it. In ADWD, while there is still much traveling, we are spared from the drawn out, painstaking detail of the day-to-day accounts of quests that, we readers know, are dead on the vine. There are a dozen instances of GRRM consolidating his travel diaries, into single lines or paragraphs (i.e. "...the ship sat bestilled for a fortnight...") which greatly enhanced the reading experience. AFFC felt like a genuine chore to get through at times, ADWD never does.
The first 500 pages of ADWD are dynamite; quick moving, informative exposition, new twists on the histories and mythology of ASOFAI and potentially intriguing character combinations. After reading each character's first chapter, I was genuinely excited to see some of their plans come to fruition: I was looking forward to seeing Tyrion join Dany's council, to see Dany master her dragons and solve the Meereen issue with cunning and fire and blood, to see Jon learn more of his identity and begin his war with the Others, to see Bran master his gift and exert his influence on the game of thrones and to see Stannis meet the Boltons in the field. Of course in GRRM's brutal world, the best laid plans get thrown to waste by everything from evil to treachery to the forces of fate to weather. Yes, weather greatly exerts it's influence in Westeros and the Narrow Sea and apparently it's goals are to delay, obfuscate and distract. No plan mentioned above comes to fruition, which is often the case in fantasy novels, but what's alarming is where these disturbances bring us.
Instead of taking the original idea and turning it on its head to create a new, better scenario, GRRM's plot twists leave the characters mired in infuriatingly uninteresting predicaments. From a ship sitting in the sea to an army being halted by snows, GRRM shatters convention of the Fantasy genre be injecting reality. While this device is how GRRM made his bones and worked with great effect when dealing with the politics of Westeros (i.e. Ned acting honorably in an unjust world was his very doom), one can't help but feel as if he's gone to the well one too many times. Readers want to see battles, want to see scheming and intrigue, want a taste of the supernatural, want to see a character work his way out of impossible odds or die trying. They don't want to see these potential outcomes averted due to "reality," yet more often than not, that is what we get. The potentialities established at the beginning of the book are systematically put to death as the story "moves," and the book suffers for it.
GRRM has many literary idiosyncrasies, and they are present in all their splendor here. Painstakingly detailed descriptions of every meal, every character eats, every time they eat? Check. Superfluous wardrobe description? Check. Having notable and exciting events occur "off screen?" Check. Introduction of new characters/questions/plotlines before any of the old are addressed? Check. Glacial plot development? Check. Lack of character growth despite their life experience? Check. Cliffhangers upon cliffhanger upon cliffhangers? Check.
Not all applications of the above devices are negative, but they speak to a fundamental flaw in Martin's approach to this series: there is no acknowledgment or acceptance of his readers' learning curve and acquired knowledge with regard to GRRM's "world.". What I mean by that, is that we are now on the 5th book of this series. Anyone who is reading this book has read the previous 4. This is not a universe that can abide stand-alone books a la Warhammer, where readers are coming from vastly differing levels of exposure. GRRM has worked hard to teach us the ethos,zeitgeist, mythology and norms of this world and readers have worked hard and invested much time in learning it. Yet, Martin continues to clog the pages with atmosphere and it comes at the cost of the story's development and momentum. I do not need to know every meal (I felt palpable relief when finally he described a character as only eating "a simple dinner"- this only happens once in the book), every outfit, every tedious, repeated environmental description (Meereen has many colored bricks? You don't say!) shoved down my throat in every chapter. If a reader doesn't have the "feel" of this universe by now, I'm afraid that they never will. The prime drawback of this element is that the book builds to the various conflicts and resolutions of its plotlines, then just runs out of space. It just stops. Without a single resolution. For a book that comes in at 959 pages to run out of space is a symptom of an egregious problem.
When you combine the issues of Martin's idiosyncrasies, interruption of missions, and injections of reality, here are the developments that we get over the last 3 books (approximately 3,000 pages):
-Tyrion has escaped Westeros, ends up with the long-lost Prince Aegon (Rhaegar's son) on his way to join with Dany (oh, how forward I was looking to see Tyrion offering his one-of-a-kind wisdom to Dany, or at least Aegon) only to end up in captivity, then a slave, then a sellsword accountant, none resulting in any really interesting outcomes. How much better would the story have been if Tyrion had been in Meereen for the majority of the book advising Dany and Selmy and dealing with Reznak and Daario? Sigh.
- Dany, now marooned in Meereen (Meereened?) is dealing with enemies on all sides, 3 growing dragons and no less than 5 men racing for her hand in marriage. In Dany's first 5 chapters, Martin does a masterful job of building a seething, threatening atmosphere- a city on the brink of fire and blood, then proceeds to take the most uninteresting approaches to dealing with the various threats. At the beginning of the book, I expected Dany to be moving on to Westeros on top of a dragon, the only question whether she went after a victory or defeat. By the end of the book, Meereen is left much the way it started- in turmoil and on the brink of conflict. Martin even shows the first step of the battle, as he leaves us to wither until the next book. The total development of the Meereen situation and Dany's disposition in the entire book could have occurred within 3 chapters.
- Jon Snow has introduced Welfare to the Wall and taken in the entire wildling population of Westeros. Much like Dany, he refuses to leave even a single person to suffer or die, even those who seem beyond hope. While the reasoning for joining with the free folk is sound (anyone south of the Wall is either an extra sword, or one less wight that he'll have to face later), Jon's maturity and development doesn't come across in his actions as much as one would expect. His treatment of Hardhome seems forced by blind idealism and his rushing to confront the Bastard of Bolton seems to come out of left field. Why would he leave the Wall immediately after implementing a radical policy change which has left the Watch more vulnerable than ever? It just doesn't add up. Oh, and he's been Caesared by his staunchly conservative brothers, though I have a hunch that his death is more Brienne than Ned. I can't help but feel that Jon's and Dany' plotlines are running counterpoint to each other and are leading to a climactic dovetail. Hopefully this occurs before book 114.
-Bran finally arrives to the 3 eyed crow, who turns out to be a Child of the Forest and learns that he is to become a greenseer. We only get 3 chapters of his travel and training and again, out of all the ways that this could have been handled, Martin chose the least interesting option....for now.
-It took 2 full books for the Ironborn to simply get in the general vicinity of Meereen. I expected to see them fight or join with Dany at the end of AFFC, yet here we are, a full book later, and all we get is a mere restating of their goals. The addition of Moquorro could be interesting, but again- the amount of movement which this added plot has undergone in ADWD is simply unacceptable.
- In what was likely the highlight of the book, we now know what became of Theon Greyjoy. Tortured and subjugated by Ramsay Bolton, Theon (now known as Reek)gives us our eyes and ears in the Bolton camp. The way that Martin has transformed Theon was brilliant, and he's been placed to have a major impact on the outcome of the North. Of course, in keeping with tradition, Reek's chapters build towards the conflict between the Boltons and Stannis, the climax of which occurs offscreen. However, the Bastard of Bolton's letter to Snow at the end was incredible- it gave me goosebumps.
- We were given a few new characters and plotlines, including the huge development that Prince Aegon lives (made more remarkable by the implications this has on Jon Snow's identity). After heeding Tyrion's advice, Aegon does what Dany was unable to and secures an army and passage to Westeros. I like this idea very much and unlike the other plotlines, Martin kicks this one up with a quickness. It was refreshing to see that Jon Connington and Aegon secured the services of the Golden Company, made their way to Westeros, revealed Aegon's identity and immediately obtained a foothold through quick and stealthy strikes. All in 2 chapters. We need more like this George- if you can do this for characters who don't know intimately, it's time to increase the actions and progress of those we do.
Ok- this ended up way longer than I anticipated- to anyone who has actually read this much, thank you so much. I'd love to chat with you all in the comments section. Finally, below I'll list the amount of chapters per character, something that I saw a reviewer do for AFFC and found it interesting- hopefully you do as well.
Reek (Theon): 7
on July 28, 2011
I am trying to be fair, and I will not deny that this book had for me some elements of interest. I read all 5 volumes in quick succession, and I still feel semi-invested. But I am honestly not sure this volume (or even the series as a whole) deserves even the 2 stars I am tempted to give it. GRRM has sucked me in, but he also makes me feel like a sucker. And having read it, I would now give 10:1 odds that the series will never be completed.
This latest volume alone contains 959 hardback pages; over 400,000 words; close to matching in length all 3 volumes of Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS. How could a book this long contain so little in the way of plot progression? Is the author stalling on purpose, or is this the only way he can cope with some weird kind of writer's block?
Part of the problem was that George RR Martin, whatever his talent for piquing the readers interest and keeping him turning pages, was never that efficient a writer. He often uses 10 words to say would could be better said in 5. Even the early volumes could, in my opinion, be trimmed down significantly and be the better for it (in particular, I could have without the voyeuristic sex stuff, constant whore references, etc.). But the level of inefficiency and bloat has increased with each volume, reaching new heights with the last two.
The other part of the problem is the proliferation of characters and points of view ("POVs"):
1. Game of Thrones: 9 povs
2. Clash of Kings: 10 povs
3. Storm of Swords: 12 povs
4. Feast for Crows: 13 povs
5. Dance with Dragons: 18 povs
4/5. Feast/Dance combined: 25 povs
If you consider that FEAST and DANCE are supposed to be "the same book" divided by POV, then you can see that the number of POVs suddenly doubled after STORM. No wonder the story suddenly became unmanageable for the author. If one divides ones story between twice as many different characters in twice as many different locations, then the story can only progress half as fast. And if your chapters contain twice as much bloat (as seems to have happened), the your story can only progress one quarter as fast.
And then the author starts repeating himself, perhaps because he fears you have not seen So-and-So in so long that you have forgotten what happened last time. More bloat.
A third aspect of the problem is this: In the first volume, not only were there only 9 povs, but they were mostly gathered in the same place and time and able to help a single storyline forward. GAME OF THRONES started most of the main POVs together, such that there were initially 2 main threads, which then divided into 3 main threads. Only at the end of the volume were the 7 surviving POVs completely scattered to the winds. Then did the author require 2 more (larger) volumes to complete the same level of plot progression that the first volume had. And yet many fans remained patient and even enthusiastic. Then it got worse ...
By the end of DANCE, we still have about 20 surviving POVs, and they are all still all scattered. One would think that the author would recognize this problem created by this vast scope, and adjust his writing style accordingly. But no. He thinks he has the time to describe how it feels for a character to urinate, and then describe a conversation he has with another character about how good he is is at urinating. Will his urinations skills have future plot relevance? He thinks he has the time to spend an entire paragraph describing a humble boat whose sole plot function is to transport a minor character from point A to point B (and leave him there), and then the author wastes another paragraph on how this minor character could have arrived on a nicer boat had things been different. George, you could have saved half a page, there. There are COUNTLESS such examples. Each chapter needs to have its length cut in half AT LEAST.
So where are we now? How close is he to finished.
THRONES was originally sold as the first of a "trilogy" (though the author admits he already knew better at publicaton). But his "trilogy" plan had originally been as follows:
Part 1: Game of Thrones: Covering War of 5 Kings.
Part 2: Dance of Dragons: Dany invades Westeros
Part 3: Winds of Winter
Well, he ended up needing a full 3 volumes to complete part 1. Part 2 was supposed to resume the story 5 years later, but for whatever reason, the author decided to scrap this plan and write an interim volume called "FEAST FOR CROWS". Let's call this Part 1.5. Well, as you recall, FEAST ended up becoming so bloated that it had to be split in two volumes, the second half being what is now being released as "A Dance with Dragons."
But the bad news is, this unplanned Part 1.5 is not even finished. All the threads that were set up in FEAST and DANCE to converge on Meereen have not reached there yet, as this latest closes. Hey, remember that guy Victarion with the dragon horn who set off for Meereen at the beginning of FEAST FOR CROWS. Well, he is still at sea. BUT HE'S GETTING CLOSE!!! When will Dany finally land in Westeros? At this rate, it won't be until volume 7, because she will need all of Volume 6 to resolve the impending climax in Meereen.
So here is a release schedule, with my estimated projections into the future, giving George 5 years to complete each future volume:
Part I, Vol 1 (A Game of Thrones): 1996
Part I, Vol 2 (A Clash of Kings): 1998
Part I, Vol 3 (A Storm of Swords): 2000
Part 1.5, Vol 1 (A Feast for Crows): 2005
Part 1.5, Vol 2 (A Dance with Dragons): 2011
Part 1.5, Vol 3 ... 2016 (Climax in Meereen)
Part 2, Vol 1 .... 2021 Dany reaches Westeros)
Part 2, Vol 2 .... 2026
Part 2, Vol 3 .... 2031
Part 3, Vol 1 .... 2036
Part 3, Vol 2 .... 2041
Part 3, Vol 3 .... 2046
GRRM still says he hopes to finish the series in seven volumes. But if that were so, those who believed that promise had a right to expect better story progress in this volume. He should just be honest and say that he hopes to complete the series in 12 volumes and that he also hopes to live to be 120 in excellent health (don't we all). That way, potential readers could make an informed decision as to whether they should invest time and money in this story.
But I cannot see it at his current rate. This story will not be resolved, and readers who hope for a resolution are wasting their time with it. That's how I am calling it. George, you are welcome to prove me wrong.
on July 13, 2011
If you had told me to make a list off the top of my head before I sat down to read this novel, of events I'd want to see, or resolutions I was looking for, it would have been something like:
Dany mastering her dragons, escaping the Meereen situation, and heading west.
Tyrion arriving at Dany's court to serve her in his unique ways.
The battle with the Others finally starting in a serious way.
Jon learning who he is.
Cersei's trial and the unleashing of FrankinGregor.
What is Jaime going to do?
Is Briennie dead, what did she say to get out of the noose?
Quentyn arriving at Dany's court and revealing Dorne's plans to her.
Victarion using the horn to control the dragons.
Bran meeting the Greenseer and finishing his training.
Arya finishing her training.
A pretty obvious list based on the story so far, right? I would have been happy with 3 of these stories moving along, 4 would have been downright wonderful. Instead I got one and a half. And the kicker...it's the last one and a half I would have chosen.
This would have been bad enough...only it got worse. GRRM manages to add two more very interesting plotlines, one of which is Stannis' battle for the North, the other of which we'll let be a secret, and he gives no resolution for them either.
This is a novel that ended 200 hundred pages short. Throughout all of it we are given two "big" stories, the North and the East, and both of them look to lead towards large power altering battles that will rival the Blackwater...only we never get to them. The book stops before BOTH.
It is a novel filled with ships sailing, and sailing, and sailing some more. Of marching, and marching, and marching some more. Jon Snow becomes muddled in food stores, concerned with wildlings, with not an Other in sight of the wall. Dany reverts back to trying to save absolutely everyone, doing anything at all to make a false peace, and turns on her own dragons. Cersei has 2 chapters, Jaime 1, and both of them feel like they should have either been included into AFFC or left out till Book 6. Bran and Ayra train, but it has no end in sight.
Tyrion....Tyrion learns to cherish his inner dwarf. If all this doesn't sound exciting, don't worry, you will be lucky enough to get to read near 50 pages of food descriptions scattered about the novel. There is also about 100 "You know nothing, Jon Snows", about 50 "Words are Wind" and considerable "I must go forward" and something about Lannister's and debts I didn't know about...
I can't say it was all bad. If there wasn't good I wouldn't be so disappointing in where the book ended after all. Reek, Barristan, Asha, and Davos were all fantastic, the single Melisandre chapter shed much light on a certain bastard's destiny, and my main-dragon Drogon was the star of the book.
But...I have just finished 1000 pages, it is fresh in my mind, and what drives me to my disappointment is the thought of another 5 years...where I will have my list above, one scratched off, and yet two more added.
3.5 but it doesn't deserve the curve.