My Review of A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
By J.S. Eaton
So here we are, the fifth volume in the much-loved A Song of Ice and Fire series of books. I’ll review the overall plot and characters, and what’s happened so far, then leave my opinion of this fifth tome, A Dance with Dragons.
This series of books takes place in the mythical lands of Westeros and, across a narrow ocean called, ironically enough, The Narrow Sea, the lands known as the Free Cities. This is also quite ironic, for it is in these cities that the slave trade makes up the backbone of the lands economy. Although, as is pointed out in numerous passages across the books, especially in the later volumes, the differences between a poorly paid servant and a slave are minute, from certain point of view. But enough of that, what about the books?
This series follows a number of characters through a span of several months as a war breaks out, a girl gets betrothed, her husband dies, etc. When I say a number of characters I mean a rather large number. I’m sure someone somewhere(probably many someones) has actually sat down and counted the number of Point-of-View characters that the various chapters have been written from, I have not. It’s much easier to describe the story by the where things happen, than the who. Now these central locations change slightly from certain books. The first three volumes, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords, concern what’s going on in Winterfell, King’s Landing, The Wall, with smaller attention being paid to the Free Cities and the Iron Islands. The action moves somewhat starting with volume four, A Feast for Crows, with more going on in the Free Cities and the Iron Islands, as well as a southern area called Dorne.
The story of the war is contained mostly in the first three books, but there’s so much more than that going on here that the war itself is actually less than half of the whole story. If anything is evidence of that, it would be the enormous size of each book, at more than a thousand pages each. They’re some of the biggest books I’ve ever read. There is the whole backstory of the Wall, where a host of otherworldly creatures is supposed to be gathering. And the young girl with dragons as pets, whom she’s trying to raise, as well as control and army, and later rule a city. The enormity of this tale cannot be understated. But Martin manages to hold our attention throughout, with vivid characters that really come to life. There are not any pure heroes to be found in this tale, but plenty of terrible villains. Some people try to act heroic(Dany), but most of it manages to backfire on them in some way. The author has tried to craft this story with as much realism as one could fit into a fantasy tale, and he manages to do it quite well. As a budding author myself, I have no end of respect for what this man has accomplished, even if I can’t help reading the entire work saying things like, “Well I wouldn’t have done THAT to the characters.” And such. Still it’s a masterpiece, and no mistake.
This fifth book is not a direct sequel to its predecessor. For the most part it concerns other characters that don’t appear in A Feast for Crows. He started writing about so many different people that it simply wouldn’t all fit into one book. So the plot and story of this book and the preceding one really happen at the same time.
So what is A Dance with Dragons? A great big book with a lot happening in some places, and very little in others. The rest of this review will assume the reader is familiar with the previous texts. If you haven’t read them, and don’t want to know what’s going to happen, I advise to stop here.
The folks who receive the most attention are probably Daenerys Targaryen, and Tyrion Lannister, and rightfully so I would say. They are my favorite surviving characters. The last third of the book catches up with Feast, so we get to find out what happens to Cersei and Jamie Lannister. We’re given more of Victarion Greyjoy’s voyage as well, another brilliant example of Martin’s ability to write a character that you love to hate. The Dorne story is followed up as well, part of it is concluded, and part of it is not.
And The Wall, what a mess that is now. Samwell Tarly got Jon elected Lord Commander in Storm of Swords, and he does a fine job with what he’s given to work with. Still, though, it’s not a job I would ever want. As soon as one problem is solved he gets two more, sometimes three. Melisandre gets one POV chapter to herself, and it gives the reader an interesting view into her mind. Until that chapter, I wasn’t sure whether she was really the fanatical believer she appears to be or simply a self-serving sorceress who’s using the Red Religion to further her own ambitions.
Dany and Tyrion spend the whole book in or near the free cities. Dany stays in Meereen nearly the whole time. I’ll admit that her story did drag in some places for me, and she makes a lot of choices that seem out of character, but perhaps that’s from my own perception of who she is, and what she’s doing. One day I’m going to come back and read this whole epic from beginning to end, and maybe those parts will make more sense. Tyrion, on the other hand, moves throughout the entire book. I think he was in the same place in only two chapters toward the front of the book.
A surprising new character is introduced herein. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it’s a big reveal, and the story of this particular person will definitely be one of the highlights of the next book.
By the end, Cersei finally seems to have been humbled, but don’t you believe it. After reading her POV chapters in the preceding book, I wouldn’t want to go against her. Still, she is shortsighted, lacking her father’s strategic mind (Tyrion got all that it seems) but all of his ruthlessness. There’s a passage in the book that compares what a certain person did versus what Tywin Lannister would have done. Someone was searching for Robert Baratheon in a small village right after his rebellion had started. This certain person searched the village for Robert. It’s pointed out that Tywin Lannister would have instead ringed the entire village with his men so no one could leave and then burned the entire thing to the ground. Ya, Cersei got all of that heartlessness. Very little is said of Margery Tyrell.
Jamie gets a chapter, only one, but much and more happens in it, and I can’t wait to see where he’s going in the next book. His is one of the hardest to understand characters. Sometimes I think he’s been humbled, and sometimes not. Maybe the next book will provide me with a more definitive answer. Martin also leaves us on the edge of our seats with Dany. Put it to you this way, if the HBO series stays on the air throughout the story of this book, the last episode will without a doubt end with the Daenerys Targaryen scene. Again. Martin’s been quoted as saying his favorite character and the one he most relates to is Tyrion, but the one with the most vivid scenes is Dany.
Bran’s story is expanded on, though not to the extent I’d have expected, considering how much happens to the others. Davos Seaworth, Quentyn Martell, and others are given fewer chapters than the main characters, but they still move the story along nicely. Barristan Selmy gets a chapter; I thought that was nice touch. Arya gets a few chapters as well, which is good, I didn’t want to wait another two or three years to find out if she stays blind.
Martin’s written another behemoth, well over a thousand pages and covering a huge amount of story across half a world. As usual, some people die and others live. Martin’s affinity for killing people you’d never think of remains.
All in all, this book stands up as an excellent work, as good as any on the series. Storm of Swords is my personal favorite, but I like this one as well as any. Thank you very much George Martin, keep up the good work.
On a side note, for anyone not familiar at all with these stories, there are parts that are a, shall we say, rated R. The author isn’t graphic or explicit, but he mentions the intimate act in all its glory whenever the story calls for it and doesn’t hold back. Just throwin’ that in there for your information. Thanks for reading to all. Hope you enjoy the books as much as I did.
See you in the Future.