Book Review – A Dance with Dragons

Book Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

This review will have no spoilers for book 5, but may mention points from earlier books. Also, I may discuss book 5 spoilers in the comments. Be warned!

So, I’ll begin with a brief concession to anyone who has not already read other books in the series or seen the HBO show: “A Game of Thrones”.

Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is, hands-down, one of the most absorbing set of books that I’ve ever read. Dark fantasy that ground its more supernatural elements in gritty detail and compelling characters. I am a relative new-comer to the series myself. I had heard many good things about the series, but it was only in anticipation of the HBO series that I decided to pick up the first book. Three months later, I finished the fourth book. And these are long books too. There are many novels that I enjoy, but these books occupied me in an exceptional way. I found myself wanting to just read them constantly. For example, I often had to resist the temptation to pull up the Kindle app on my phone while stopped at red-lights in my car. In short, I liked it, and was very fortunate that I only had to wait a few months for book five, rather than the six years required for fans who read book four when it was new.

So if you haven’t read the books, I do recommend them, and the only caveat at all is that Martin’s pattern has been to have long gaps between the books, and the series is not complete. So if you start now you may be stuck waiting with the rest of us. A valid concern, but in my opinion, waiting just deprives you of the pleasure of reading the existing books, and I’m glad I decided to go ahead and start.

Okay, so now lets move on to discussion of book five.

I don’t like to try and rank the different books in the series, but I can say that I found A Dance with Dragons to be more satisfying in the end than book four, if only because there are not quite so many cruel cliffhangers. (There are still a few.) A Feast for Crows had a lot in it that I really enjoyed, but some aspects of it were frustrating. More than half of the most-compelling characters were left out entirely, and those we did follow were, almost without exception, left in imminent peril. Martin explained in the afterword for AFfC that it and ADwD were originally one story, that he decided to split by characters rather than chronology. An interesting idea, but it just meant we had to wait that much longer to find out what happened to characters like Tyrion, Jon Snow, and Daenerys.

A Dance with Dragons spends its first two-thirds filling us in on what those characters were up to during the events of A Feast for Crows, (which I should say, actually made for interesting reading when we know some things that the characters don’t,) and then the last third brings back some of the rest, so that by the end of the book, we’ve heard from pretty much everyone.

Westeros has now learned of Daenerys’s exploits across the Narrow Sea, freeing the slaves of Astapor and Meereen, so now there are many parties seeking to meet her and enlist her name, heritage and army (and of course, let’s not forget the DRAGONS), in service of their own ends. Meanwhile, up at the Wall, Jon Snow now faces thousands of surrendered and starving Wildlings, as well as his uneasy alliance with King Stannis and his red witch Melisandre. We also catch up with Bran Stark who was last seen crossing under the Wall with the help of a mysterious figure named Coldhands, follow Tyrion as he flees King’s Landing and the ramifications of his patricide. Then we learn the fate of Davos Seaworth and another character, thought dead, gives us a peek at the actions of Ramsay and Roose Bolton.

As Martin does so well, there are plenty of surprises, lots of blood and death, dozens of characters, conspiracies, plots, battles, etc.

Like I mentioned above, I found A Feast for Crows to be very compelling reading and great continuation of the story, though where it left off was more than a little frustrating. A Dance with Dragons finishes with it’s fair share of cliffhangers (two big game-changers, in particular), but in the end, I felt like I can bear the wait for the next book a bit better. I want to know what happens next, but it doesn’t feel quite so much like Martin pulling the football away like Lucy for Charlie Brown. I loved it.