415 of 476 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2011
This book similar to all George RR Martin books is brilliantly written. I continue to have a love hate relationship with most of the major characters. For example, as much as I detest the character Cersei I began to feel pity for her in this book. This is the nature and the beauty of the series where no one is completely evil or good. I think the brilliance of the writing makes the disappointing portions glare more brightly than one would see in an average to above average book.
Problem 1, Lists and Lists of useless information. During one visit to the wall almost a full page is dedicated to listing all of the shields that were arrayed on the wall by the family name and crest. As with so many of the Martin lists the names are rarely ever seen or heard from again. I have gotten to the point that when I see these lists I usually just read the first and last one.
Problem 2, Premature ending. When I finally arrived at page 1000 I began to feel anxious because I knew Martin could not give me the satisfaction of some resolutions before the book was over with only 100 pages left. In a series of this nature it is expected that some plot lines will continue unresolved until the next book but in this case Martin left virtually all plot lines unresolved. I thought this was supposed to fix the problem with Feast of Crows but again I was left wanting. While writing this review I was tempted to fake satisfaction because the book was still an enjoyable read but it is best to let prospective readers understand the book's limitations.
Problem 3, There are still some characters that leave me clueless. I really don't understand what is going on with Bran. Martin has spent a lot of ink chronicling Bran's sojourn with mystical undertones but I'll be darn if I have any inkling how this will impact the story line. What was up with Jon Snow? He turned from a position of zero intervention with the world of men to a highly political being. Character disconnects and unresolved story lines abound.
One would think that with this critique I would have given the book a lower rating but when evaluated based on the writing merit and the enjoyability factor George RR Martin continues to deliver. Now if he can just focus on writing some plot resolutions, publish Book 6 withing the next 12 to 18 months and reduce the mundane lists I will find myself completely satisfied.
My recommendation is to read it but don't expect it sate your appetite it is merely a morsel to wet your whistle.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2011
Do I even need to say how long it's been? A Feast for Crows was a placeholder, a holding action intended to keep the story going just a little during the decade-long creative struggle George R.R. Martin faced at the end of A Storm of Swords. It would be easy enough to set aside any objective criticism and instantly adore the book. But that's not how I am as a reader, and as grateful as I am for A Dance with Dragons, it's not as satisfying as A Storm of Swords, A Game of Thrones, or A Clash of Kings. This is not to say that it's a bad book -- anything but. It is at turns thrilling and terrifying -- a big complicated behemoth of a book full of unexpected surprises and deftly paid-off moments of plot. But there is trouble at the heart of it -- the fabled "Meereenese Knot" that Martin grappled with for so long.
Before I continue, I want to note that I am going to avoid spoilers and speak in generalities. I understand that those generalities may be considered spoilers -- so read on at your own peril. But please be aware that I will not spoil specific plot twists, character reveals, etc.
A Dance with Dragons is centered around three major story-lines -- Dany's rule in Meereen, as well as the many people trying to reach her; Jon's tenure as Lord Commander of the Knight's Watch on the Wall; and the north under the stewardship of the Boltons. Other characters and settings are addressed, including a few lingering threads spun out of A Feast for Crows, but Dany and Jon are by far the most critical characters in the book.
The problem is that the "Meereenese Knot" isn't so much a knot, as it is a cul-de-sac. For five books now we've watched Dany develop as a queen, waiting for her to arrive on the shores of Westeros with her dragons and her army. And yet at the close of A Storm of Swords, Dany decided to stay in newly-conquered Meereen on the shores of Slaver's Bay to learn how to rule. Her arc is concerned mostly with that -- as well as the unexpected consequences of her decisions. The early chapters in the arc are some of the least interesting in the entire book, but Dany's arc begins to pick up steam in the last third of A Dance with Dragons, driven in large part by a compelling new POV character. Yet, as the book closes, I'm not sure that I'd say the knot is any looser than where it began. Only Martin knows for sure, but with so much time devoted to Dany, I'm not sure very much progress has been made.
Jon's arc on the Wall also deals with the complications of rule -- the compromises leaders must make for the greater good. And as Jon makes some very difficult decisions, it's easy to wonder if he has some of his Ned Stark's weaknesses, or if he will rise above his father's mistakes. One could also say that Jon's arc has certain ... Shakespearean overtones.
The Boltons are, I believe, the only true "villains" in the series -- characters so vile and evil that they are irredeemable. Yet, they are believable villains -- a family of sociopaths who pass on their predatory approach from father to son. Their story is told from a surprising POV character who I would rather not name, and I found the Bolton chapters to be especially compelling, as well as disturbing.
The remaining characters and arcs in the story are probably best left unmentioned -- although they often eclipse the three major plot movements of the book and lay important pieces for books to come. I will say that I have gone from being lukewarm about Victarion Greyjoy to wanting to hop aboard a longship and follow him across the world -- the guy is an incomparable badass, reckless and bold, a true pirate lord. My old favorite Davos Seaworth is on hand for a few chapters and remains one of the most humble and truly brave and heroic characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. But my favorite POV chapters come from a completely new character -- one who shepherds in a whole series of changes into the series.
Although A Dance with Dragons is a much more engaging book than A Feast for Crows, I believe many readers will find that it shares many of the unsatisfying elements that plagued its immediate predecessor. Playing pieces are shuffled into position (or out of position), but very little is resolved. This is not surprising for a series as big and ambitious as A Song of Ice and Fire, but with such a long gap between books, it can be disappointing. Unlike earlier volumes in the series, A Dance with Dragons does not tell a complete story -- it is more complete than A Feast for Crows, but only just so.
Here's hoping for a shorter wait before the release of Winds of Winter.
27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2011
The first three books in this series were fast-paced, with lots of huge, game-changing events per book, and that was part of the draw for me. A Feast for Crows and, now, A Dance With Dragons, aren't like that; they're slower, more contemplative, more thematically-driven rather than plot-driven. It's certainly a change, and I was initially a bit disappointed. But ultimately, I really liked A Dance With Dragons (and I ranked AFFC at 3.5).
There isn't as much plot momentum here as in previous books, and at times I found that frustrating (although it helped to know about it going in). But I never found the book less than compelling; the character development is solid, the worldbuilding excellent, the writing good and the thematics strong, and enough happened to keep me interested. I enjoyed visiting new places on Martin's map and the immersive descriptions; it's as if I actually visited many of these places, something I value highly in any book. And I really enjoyed the look at the realities of leadership, seeing the characters grow and change, and gradually learning more about some of the backstory mysteries.
It makes the most sense to discuss this book in terms of specific storylines, so I'll break it down (no spoilers!):
DAENERYS: Unlike many readers, I found her chapters to be among the most interesting in the book. Previously she's done a lot of traveling, and it was cool to see her actually ruling here. The conflict between her values and principles and the realities of her situation was fascinating. A lot of people have been frustrated with her relationship with Daario, but despite his manifest unattractiveness I liked that too; Dany's at the age where this often happens, and how many fantasy heroines are allowed to have a fling? Also, this storyline let Martin flesh out Meereen more than he'd previously done with anyplace outside Westeros; in previous books I found Dany's "eastern" surroundings somewhat two-dimensional, but while the local characters still aren't as vivid as the Westerosi, here he goes a long way toward closing that gap.
JON: Paralleling Dany's storyline, we see him trying to rule and the myriad difficulties he faces. Both he and Dany are faced with hard decisions and break new ground trying to do what they see as right, which didn't fail to keep my interest. Ends on a ridiculous cliffhanger--but while I've never liked Martin's ending books this way, he's done it since the beginning and I've gotten used to it.
TYRION: His arc resembles Arya's in A Clash of Kings; he spends the book journeying toward a specific destination (Daenerys, in his case), and along the way he meets interesting people, develops as a character and faces a lot of personal reversals and changes of fortune.... without reaching his destination. I was a bit frustrated by this in both books (it's hard not to be). But there's a lot there, and it's interesting to see Tyrion try to make it without being able to call on the Lannister name or the wealth of Casterly Rock every time things go sour.
THEON/REEK: Martin likes to challenge your opinion of a character. I didn't like this arc as much as many others; Ramsay is so two-dimensionally sociopathic and evil that it was hard to summon up any feelings toward him, and having hated Theon in previous books, I wonder if being victimized has really improved him. The jury's still out on that.
ARYA, BRAN, DAVOS, JAIME, CERSEI: Only get a couple chapters each, although they're interesting. This book is certainly sprawling; there are so many characters in so many different places that it just isn't as unified as, say, A Game of Thrones.
QUENTYN: Has an interesting storyline and a complete arc. He himself is rather dull, but he was intended to be. A thoughtful examination of the forces at work on somebody in his position.
SELMY: Meh, kind of a less interesting copy of Eddard Stark. He's more another pair of eyes on Meereen than an important character in his own right.
ASHA: Not many chapters, but hard-hitting and atmospheric. We get a taste of Westeros winter here, and it's a scary thing. Also, Asha herself is awesome.
VICTARION: Also doesn't reach his destination, but there are some fascinating things going on in his chapters. I still hope somebody stabs him though.
ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE: Yes, there are more. It's a big book. The downside is that when a chapter ends, we often have to go 100 pages or more before seeing that character again; the upside, that there's a lot going on.
Ultimately, a lot of this book is setup, and I'm not thrilled with that; when most of the best books of all time are significantly shorter than this, does Martin really need nearly 1000 pages for setups and transition? It's easy for fantasy series to become self-indulgent, and here a couple arcs seem to have their climaxes deferred; others simply don't go where I thought they would, and that's fine.
It's not a perfect book, aside from that--there are some important secondary characters who aren't very vividly drawn (especially true in Dany's chapters), but then there are great bit-part characters of the sort I've come to expect from Martin. I have some reservations about his treatment of gender issues--for the most part he does all right, and at least he's thinking about it, but at times he falls flat because he's just so entrenched in the male gaze.
Despite all that, I enjoyed the two weeks or so I spent with this book. It's a well-written, intelligent novel, and enough twists and turns are thrown at the reader to keep me satisfied. None of the characters are the same as they were at the beginning of this book, nor are their storylines. A solid four stars.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2011
It's hard to overstate just how much I have been anticipating this book. Certainly since Martin's A Storm of Swords, I have been eagerly awaiting the continuation and perhaps resolution of plots set in motion by the Red Wedding, Jon Snow's ascension to lead the Night's Watch and Daenerys' capture of Meereen. Well, after finishing the book yesterday and a literally sleepless night over how upset I was by certain deaths, I almost wish I hadn't read it.
Let's start at the beginning. I'll try to keep this review spoiler-free. First the good stuff.
George R. R. Martin excels at making you care about these characters. All of people, major and minor, have the ring of truth about them. They feel real, you care about them or hate them but you understand them. I don't think anyone does this better than GRRM. The dragons are growing up and when they appear on the page, they are vivid, fascinating monsters a world away from the empathetic beasts of McCaffrey or Novik. GRRM also delights in playing with reader expectations. No one is safe, in this, A Song of Ice and Fire feels more like a horror story than traditional fantasy. Finally, the world is gritty and real in a way fantasy simply wasn't before, outside of a few Sword and Sorcery tales from Leiber or Howard. Martin is telling a huge tale and I can't think of anyone else telling a story this big, this successfully. That said, Martin's reach exceeds his grasp, or so it seems at this point.
The book follows three main plot threads with a spattering of scenes that advance the story a tick from A Feast for Crows. The first is Tyrion's trajectory from Westeros to Daenerys. The second is Jon Snow's struggles leading the Night's Watch and preparing for the coming of Winter and the White Walkers. The third is Daenerys' attempts to rule Meereen. An honorable mention should be made for Quentyn Martell's attempt to reach and woo Daenerys but this plot line is buried in the latter half of the book. Additionally we have: Stannis Baratheon's struggle in the North, the fate of the Iron Born in the north, the ascendancy of House Ramsay and Frey, the fallout from Queen Cerci's stupidity, Davos Seaworth's attempt to woo House Manderley, the fate of Bran and Rickon Stark, and last but not least, a new appearance of a Targaryen quite literally out of nowhere. This doesn't include additional plot threads that also poke their heads up from A Feast for Crows. As you can see, there's a lot going on here.
One of the things that makes this book so frustrating is how few plots are resolved or even moved along significantly. A Dance with Dragons feels like half a book, despite its heroic size. There is so much going on that there simply isn't enough progress accomplished. I have to question some of the plot lines Martin chose to write. Sorry but there it is. Readers hoping that there would be a resolution of the legendary "Meereenese knot" that tied GRRM up and stranded Daenerys a world away from the main action in Westeros will be disappointed. Not only by the fact the Daenerys show no sign of going to Westeros but by the fact she's not even in the third act of the book. Battles between the Boltons and Stannis are literally bogged down and left unresolved on the page, making a mysterious note from Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow) at the end of Jon's chapter ambiguous to say the least. Tyrion never even meets Daenerys, let alone advises her. The Martel plot is so futile and unreceived that I wonder why Martin bothered to write it. Almost NOTHING is settled in this book. We are given cliffhangers and `downer endings' but few resolutions. We aren't even moving towards resolution and with only two books left (supposedly) that is worrying. Two plot threads appear to be resolved in the most final way possible, which leads me to my second problem with the book.
There has been a recurring theme that those who try to do good, who try to act honorably will be killed, mutilated and disgraced. Time and again, characters you know and love and sympathize with are cut down, corrupted, maimed and murdered. A Dance with Dragons continues this fine tradition. Martin is nothing if not consistent. Again and again in this series, characters are warned but ignore these warnings, to their doom. In a way, this is a classical tragedy where a character's flaw or virtues even, bring about their destruction. Or virtues...that's not the way it's supposed to work. Flaw, yes. In classical tragedy, a character is supposed to fail due to their tragic flaw. In Martin's world, there are tragic virtues. Like Honor. Honesty. Compassion. Decency. Humanity. Loyalty. Any of these qualities will get you killed in these books. The characters that thrive are the most devious, the most ruthless, the liars, the torturers and the corrupt. I am weary from watching good men die and watching good women suffer. At this point, I'm not sure who I should be rooting for or if I should even keep reading.
I will, of course. Martin is writing the epic fantasy of the past fifty years. Even if it fails, it will be an epic failure and be worth watching in the same way that watching Rome burn must have been worth seeing.
In addition to the betrayal, murder and torture, there's the sex. Now, I'm no prude, I write about sex and violence in no small amount myself. However, this book is particularly drenched in sex and for gratuitous reasons, it seems. There are long, loving descriptions of random naked women we never see again. Rape and near rape, both on the page and `off stage'. Sodomy is mentioned frequently among Eastern kingdoms and sell sword companies. There's always been a lot of sex and deviant sex at that in this series. So I'm sure most readers won't be put off at this point, but brace yourself. There's a lot of sex in this book.
Do I recommend the book? It hardly matters. Readers have been waiting 6-8 years for this book, depending on how you look at it. It is essential and that makes it a crying shame. It is well-written, though not quite to the levels in the first three books. I worry that the seven books we've been promised will sprawl further, as the later Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series did. This is epic fantasy and epic tragedy.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2012
I resisted reading this series for so long based on the fact that it received so many poor reviews for the the fourth and fifth books. I figured, "Why bother getting invested in all these characters if the author is going to let me down in the end?" Once the "Game of Thrones" series started on HBO, I couldn't hold off any longer. I didn't watch the show until I made it through the first four books, but after plowing through all five books consecutively, I can honestly say - yes, the first three books are amazing, and that the fourth and fifth book were slower. Having said that, to give this book anything less than three stars is a travesty. Its a well written, fully realized world with rich characters that shed many of the standard fantasy genre characteristics. Much like "The Lord of the Rings", it has its ups and downs, and there are some boring portions...but there is so much that is enjoyable that it should be easy to dismiss the parts that are less than stellar. I find it hard to believe that so many people found the book (or it's predecessor) to be pointless. There are times when Martin rambles, or puts way too much emphasis on the history of Westeros, but there is more substance to these books than than you will find in most bestsellers today. Don't be swayed by all the naysayers, these are quality books that should be read. I won't lie to you and say that "A Dance with Dragons" lives up to the ALL the expectations set by the first three books, but if you invest your time into the story, I don't think you'll be disappointed.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2011
The fifth installment of "A Song of Ice and Fire" was just a little less disappointing than the fourth. Too much time was spent on tedium while important story arcs and characters were either underdeveloped or ignored entirely. All that being said, I did enjoy this book, and I am anxiously awaiting the next installment (though I hope it doesn't take five years to arrive). I would still recommend this to others as there are some great scenes (Drogon and Dany at the pits, for one) and important story developments (ie: the return of a certain prince). But don't expect this one to rival any of the first three books.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2013
In the end I just got tired of reading elaborate descriptions of disgusting food and torture. I waded through an awful lot of pigeon testicle pies and nipple amputations, and it just got too much. I read all the books through half of this one and I just love Tyrion and Arya and even Sansa. Littlefinger is endlessly compelling. The characters are just so indelible and if you can keep up with the plot you're a better person than I am. Great stuff, but be prepared.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2015
Well I've read all the GoT books and I don't know why. I've hated myself for continuing to read them after the author killed Ned Stark. I mean c'mon that's like Lex Luthor actually killing Superman. I put the book down for a month before my friends badgered me into finishing it. What's wrong with being good and noble and just. I believe in those virtues and try really hard to teach my kids right and wrong and that doing what's right is important. These days being good is looked down on with malice it seems. And Martin didn't stop torturing me by killing Ned. Noooo he had to go on and mess with me by giving me hope that a Stark would win out and good would triumph over evil. Just when I was starting to really like Rob and think he's a good just dude just like his old man - wham! Mr. Martin rips my heart out again with the red wedding. Was so bummed I said I'd never read another GoT book. So a few months go by and I said why not give it another try. I get through it and start to lament the terrible way the Stark girls are ending up but hey
There is still hope because we have Ned's son John Snow. Yeah that's it he is the one that is destined to be the true king that can unite the kingdoms and bring justice and peace and prosperity to the seven kingdoms! Ummm no now Mr. Martin has to totally screw with me yet again and kill him. So I almost didn't finish this book as well. But I did. Why because somewhere somehow the good guys have to win in the end right? Right? If it wasn't such a good read I'd really hate this guy. Lol. Wish I had never picked up the first book. R.R. Martin looks like such a nice sweet old dude. Darn evil genius is what he is. Black hearted author extraordinaire. If and when the sixth book comes out I'm going to try like heck to stay away from it. Unless I hear he brings Ned back somehow. '
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2014
Before everyone gets their nickers in a twist, I want to start this review off by saying that I am a huge fan of the series. I started reading the series back in college and fell in love with the story, the world, and the characters well before there was even a smidgen of a thought that this would be turned into a HBO series. Or any series other than a book series, for that matter. Martin's exceptional style and captivating writing has entranced the world, including myself. Fantasy lovers get their fix and non-fantasy lovers find themselves enthralled against their earlier judgment.
A Dance with Dragons is the fifth book in what should be a seven part series, if Martin doesn't retire or kick the bucket anytime soon. The previous book, A Storm of Swords, was lackluster at best with many of our characters having been removed from the story for a time. We were excited, anticipatory, and downright anxious for Dance to come out so that we might get our fix of some of our favorite characters. And when we finally did, we got 1,000 pages of filler. Note the use of the term "good" in the title of this review, because I actually mean it. Despite the fact that the book wasn't what I wanted it to be, it was still good. Martin is too powerful of a writer to have more than one star taken from him for the somewhat lackluster book. Besides, like its companion novel, A Storm of Swords, it is clearly setting up. The problem is, Martin more than likely could have set up by combining Storm and Dance together into one 1,000 page novel instead of two. C'est la vie.
In his defense, his 2,000 pages of filler between Storm and Dance gives us a fuller, more realistic view of the characters, the world, and the history involved in shaping the world. In fact, this novel tends towards a more historical perspective, swooping in with tales of Dorne, Valyria, the Free Cities, and the slavery-led ones. What's more is that Martin gives us a few new characters and a few new plots and a few new "holy crap, that's going to change everything" moments. That alone, helps the story along and keeps his star-rating towards the right hand side of the screen and not the left.
Martin still has us transfixed, and despite the long journey we are hooked. My only regret is having to wait "x" number of years before Winds of Winter even thinks about hitting the printing presses.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2013
Today, just to prove a point, I read the opening of Game of Thrones. There is no denying - through the series, GRRM's writing has become careless and unwieldy. Hi He resorts to having characters repeat the same stale catch phrase again and again and again.
Dany: "I am only a young girl who knows little in the ways of war"
Tyrion: "Where do whores go"
Barristan Selmy: "I am too old for this"
Theon: "Reek Reek rhymes with leek/meek/weak....."
And so on..
Like the storyline, the prose stalled and lumbered. Yet, that wasn't the biggest sin. What of our favourite characters? (SPOILERS).
Tyrion - the cunning influencer, the unsung hero of Blackwater, has just a couple of talents remaining - making "big people" laugh and being an obedient good little dwarf. He takes to the role of the slave as if he's prepared all his life for it. Serving at feasts, riding a pig, wiping his big master's bottom - wouldn't any regular lordling learn all that growing up a possible heir to the richest family in Westeros?
Dany - OK, she wanted to rule. But she doesn't. Some days she can't be bothered to hold court. She wants to float in her tub under the persimmon tree, and lounge around her terrace watching the "pyramids of Meereen". And choose outfits to greet Daario in - she's only a young girl who knows nothing in the way of war! She doesn't execute a single person, despite her own people falling like flies, and that's the same girl who nailed a hundred slave masters to crosses as a payback for slave children murdered in the same way, who sacked Astapor after cheating its masters out of the Unsullied, the girl had crossed deserts and conquered cities on her way to win back the Westeros throne. About that...It's all about peace now, man.
Bran - becoming a tree? Really? The boy has crossed into the North Lands to get his legs back, and the best he can get is the offer of even less mobility.
Arya - morphing into a chick from Kill Bill. Not that it is a bad storyline on its own, but having spent two books trying to find her family - anyone - this leaves me a bit bewildered that she makes no attempt to get news about any of them. She knows that Jon and Sansa are alive, and seems to have made a choice to forget about them. She enters this book as the Faceless Men wanna be, and exits as the Faceless Men wanna-be. How far she's come!
Jon - knifed. OK, most theories seem to agree that he won't die, but you have to wonder why GRRM created such a noble, proud house populated by people you want to know more and more about, only to wipe out most of them so early in the series, maim and rain misery on the rest for the remainder of it.
Jamie - appears only to tell us he is galloping off to join Brienne...not without telling us - again - that Cersei has done Lancel and Osney and possibly Moonboy..
As a tradeoff, GRRM unleashes a plethora of inconsequential, background characters, some of whom are quite disgusting, to make matters worse. Victarion comes to mind, brutish, cruel, stupid man. His casual cruelty and abuse towards his "dusky woman" was quite painful to read about. Why oh why do we need to know about him?
Look, it is still a good read. It is still an amazing universe of characters, cities and events, still epic in its depth. I will still be buying the next book, if it ever comes out. But GRRM needs to cull and spare us the scum of Westeros. I've come too far now to stop reading - if I look back, I am lost!