Customer Review

2,716 of 2,978 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars These dragons don't dance, they stumble., July 14, 2011
This review is from: A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire) (Hardcover)
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.
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Comments

Tracked by 17 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 180 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 14, 2011 2:50:30 PM PDT
J35J says:
Once again...very good review. Agreed that even a mediocore Martin book is still better than most out there.

Posted on Jul 15, 2011 12:57:56 AM PDT
Binko Barnes says:
I disagree vehemently that a mediocre GRRM book is better than most.

Look at it this way; if you see a poor ragged street person with a cello performing a mediocre piece of music you will still be heartened that he is making an effort and trying to do something constructive.

But if you see Yo Yo Ma get up on stage and perform the same mediocre piece you will likely be saddened and depressed because it represents so much lost potential and such a fall from grace.

Dance With Dragons is a vastly depressing book for those who loved the first three books in the series and all the promise they represented.

Posted on Jul 16, 2011 3:07:50 PM PDT
Excellent review and I completely agree with your assessment that this mediocre book is better than most everything else written in the genre. I came to this series late in the game thanks to HBO so I've read all five books in a little over two months. I don't regret the time spent reading them but I sorely wish that we were further along in the story. One tidbit that struck me as coming completely out of the blue was when Tyrion mentioned that he missed his wife that he barely knew...really? He misses Sans...where did that come from? I guess we'll find out in five or six years...if he manages to make it into the next book.

Posted on Jul 18, 2011 4:28:49 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jul 18, 2011 6:33:31 AM PDT]

Posted on Jul 18, 2011 11:15:51 AM PDT
E. Smiley says:
A spoiler alert in there would have been nice.

Posted on Jul 20, 2011 4:30:27 AM PDT
A. Rickard says:
SPOLIORS!!!!!!!

Posted on Jul 20, 2011 7:23:38 AM PDT
Lim Yuxiang says:
If u wan to write a spoilers laden review., at least have the courtesy to announce it in the title.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 20, 2011 3:08:41 PM PDT
Kate Morris says:
I'm terribly sorry if being forewarned of Mance's supposed death completely ruined your enjoyment of the book. I figured it was a fairly minor spoiler, especially since the total elapsed span between his execution and reappearance in the actual text is something like fifty pages. I'm not aware of any other spoilers in my review, unless you count "nothing actually happens" as a spoiler. I mean, Catelyn's resurrection was known about in Feast (and if you're reading a review of Dance, I would hope you've already read the earlier books in the series), I didn't mention the name of or any details about the fishy new character, and after washing up on that rock after the Blackwater, I figured everybody else just assumes Davos is immortal too.

Posted on Jul 20, 2011 3:41:45 PM PDT
Liadin says:
No need to get all snippy, just put the words "spoiler warning" in the title of your review. Just because nothing that happened in the book surprised you doesn't mean everybody wants to stumble unawares on a review that includes information about events that happen well into the book.

Posted on Jul 20, 2011 9:22:53 PM PDT
Whitetower67 says:
Ehh, the killing of main characters isn't a "positive" element of ASoIaF or any other story. Ned Stark and Tywin Lannister, for example, are killed because their deaths are necessary to tell the story. Killing characters for essentially no reason other than to "prove" that in real life people die for no reason (does that need to be proved?) would serve no purpose and indeed would make the story uninteresting.

I can get that by watching the news each night.
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