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424 of 462 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Annoyance with Dragons, August 6, 2011
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This review is from: A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5) (Kindle Edition)
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.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 1, 2013 5:17:25 PM PDT
Jesse McCoy says:
I agree that sex is shoehorned whenever he can. Not necessary!

Posted on Jun 6, 2013 1:04:22 PM PDT
readergal says:
Well-written review. On the catchphrases, I noticed a sudden surge in the term "must needs." I don't remember it in the first four books, but in the second half of this one, every other character was saying it.

This book, and Book 4, seriously needed a good editor.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 21, 2013 7:08:25 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 21, 2013 7:09:04 AM PDT
T. Patterson says:
I wanted to like this series, I really did, but with too many characters', and a sprawling, verbose, meandering story line I have given up. I've been saying for years that he needs a good editor. This game of thrones has become a game of groans.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2013 12:36:38 AM PDT
Yes, I thought he went a little too far... then I watched the TV series. You could use it to teach a sex-ed class.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2013 12:38:32 AM PDT
I think that as the series grew more popular, the publisher's motives changed, from aiming to attract an audience through quality to retaining that audience through quantity.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2013 12:38:54 AM PDT
Zing!
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