Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Bantam Books
July 2011
1040 pages
Buy here.

Let me start off by saying that I am a relatively new fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series.  I only learned of it through the TV series, which I didn't start watching until a couple of months after it originally aired.  I then proceeded to plow through the books at a ferocious pace.  My point is, I have not had to experience the torment of waiting years in anticipation for this book to be published, nor have I spent hours, days, months, years speculating on where the whole thing is going.  I read the books because I am curious to see where it will eventually go, but I have by no means invested the same time and energy into this series as most other readers, and I have no doubt that this causes me to have a fairly different perspective on this book.

Having said that, it seems like this book is the least liked of the series, which I felt I understood the first time I read it myself.  However, I just finished reading the entire series a second time, and I now think that this may be my favorite of the bunch so far.  Many people have complained that it drags on, that nothing happens in terms of plot, that nothing is really resolved in terms of the character arcs.  I can sort of see how all of that is true, and that was initially why I didn't like the book much the first time around.  After a second reading, though, I felt like the action and immediate aftermath of the War of the Five Kings was a bit too drawn out between A Clash of Kings and A Feast For Crows.  Too much fighting, too much laying waste to the land, a ridiculous number of dead main characters.  It was all too much of the same for me across three separate books.

Dance With Dragons is a step in a new direction, though.  While the events of the book happen simultaneously as those in Feast for Crows, the distance in terms of setting helps to separate the two books, as does the introduction of so many new characters.  Things move forward in a much more significant way in this book than they do in Feast for Crows, and part of that has to do with much of the plot given as memories.  We do not need to know every single detail of every single character's journey, because all those details can easily be summed up.  Martin's focus in his writing is more on character than plot, it seems, so writing in this way allows him to focus on character interactions rather than what is simply happening, and I like that.  The events of this book are strange in that they look both forward and backward, but much farther backward than the war that just ended.  History literally comes back to life in this book, in the forms of Dany's dragons (which, duh, hatched in GoT, but have been all but weak pets up until this book) and in the young prince who everyone believes is dead.

I guess what I like about this book so much is that it brings us back to the grand sweeping history that Martin started off with in Game of Thrones.  The War of the Five Kings was necessary of course to change the immediate political conditions in Westeros, but it seems like in Dance With Dragons Martin was finally able to get back to the greater issues that have yet to be resolved.  Yes, the action in books two through four was nice, but ultimately the War of the Five Kings is not the point of the overall series; it is merely a stepping stone to setting up a new ruler (one who, I hope, ends up being a Targaryen).

Many readers complain that nothing "happens" in this book, but I don't know why that's a bad thing, particularly after all the action of the previous books.  The direction of the series is shifting, and to shift painlessly things need to be set up a bit more, as they are in this book.  While there may not be as much action as the earlier books filled with warfare, I find it hard to agree with the idea that the series has not moved forward with this book.  Personally, I would much rather read interesting setting and character development than action after action, and I don't mind that Martin is taking his time establishing the next steps of the story.  Everything that was established after Robert's Rebellion is in ruins, and the last of the Targaryen dynasty is revving up to restore their claim.  If there really are only two books left, I have no doubt they will move quickly now that all the pieces are in place.

Rating: 4/5

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