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George R. R. Martin – A Dance With Dragons

August 31, 2011

107. A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (2011)
A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5

Read my review of book:
1. A Game of Thrones
2. A Clash of Kings
3. A Storm of Swords
4. A Feast for Crows

Length: 1018 pages
Genre: Epic Fantasy

Started: 13 August 2011
Finished: 22 August 2011

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Oh, please. This book went on my wishlist as soon as I finished A Feast For Crows… five years ago.

This book gets back to
its roots: dragon fire and
a wall made of ice.

Summary: Jon Snow, newly elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, has a plan for protecting the realm against the White Walkers, one that means allying with the wildlings that have been the enemy for time out of mind – a plan with which no one is particularly happy, including King Stannis, who is also still fuming at the lack of support he’s received from the northern lords. One of those northern lords, the sadistic Ramsay Bolton plans to marry Arya Stark and thus claim Winterfell, but Arya is in Braavos, in training to be a servant of the Nameless God, and the only one who knows that Ramsay’s bride is not who they claim she is is Reek, a tortured thrall of Bolton’s who used to be someone else entirely. Bran and his companions continue their journey north of the Wall, to find Bran’s three-eyed crow.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the narrow sea, everything seems to be converging on Daenerys. She holds the former slave city of Meereen only loosely, and discontent is rampant in the streets. Her dragons have gotten too large to control, and one of them seems to have gotten a taste for human flesh. Suitors that intend to marry her, and thus gain control of Westeros approach from Dorne, from the Iron Islands, and from Volantis. Tyrion finds himself with this latter group after being smuggled out of King’s Landing, and soon realizes that he is once again in the middle of a plot that is decades in the making.

Review: Oh, so good. And more to the point, so much better! Not only did this book have all of my favorite POV characters that A Feast For Crows lacked, but it actually had things happening! In all of the storylines! Forward plot momentum on multiple fronts! Hooray! It wasn’t quite the breakneck pace of some of first few books, and there were a few places that dragged – in particular, Daenerys’s story could have been told equally effectively in substantially fewer installments, and some of Tyrion’s adventures didn’t seem to have a point… although it’s entirely likely that I just don’t see their point yet. But on the whole, this book kept me absorbed in the reading and interested in its story, more or less from first page to last. Even better, there were parts of this book that took the duller parts of A Feast For Crows (the Dorne chapters, in particular) and moved their story forward in ways that made the last book retrospectively much more important and interesting.

However, there were a few parts that kept this book from being great. The later chapters pick up with POV characters from AFfC, but since they’re not the focus it leaves their chapters feeling incomplete and crammed in where they don’t fit. In particular, I’m still scratching my head at the end of Jaime’s few chapters… something happens that doesn’t seem to square with the end of AFfC, and there’s no explanation of what’s going on, or how things got from there to here. Too, in past books Martin’s been able to pull off a really good shocking twist, or reveal, and there wasn’t one in this book. (Hell of a cliffhanger ending on a couple of storylines, though. “Cliffhanger” doesn’t even cover it. When’s the next book coming out?) Although, the lack of good reveals is more my fault than Martin’s; there were a few points that I think were designed to be shocking, but since I was reading pretty carefully on my re-read, they basically just confirmed things I already suspected.

Apart from the improved pacing and plotting, this book also lives up to the standards of character development, worldbuilding, grey ethics, and wordcraft that Martin established in the rest of the series. It’s crazy how just a few well-placed words (“You know nothing, Jon Snow.”) can give me the creeped-out shivers, just by putting them in the mouth of the right character (Melisandre) – and there are equally well-done touches like that throughout the book. Similarly, and I should have expected it after A Storm of Swords transformed Jaime from completely irredeemable into one of my favorite characters, but damn can Martin do complex characterizations. When your heart breaks hardest for a character that you don’t even like, that’s pretty impressive.

So, overall: not without its flaws, but a definite improvement over book 4, and full of the stuff (and characters) that made me fall in love with this series in the first place. (But argh! The cliffhangers!) 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Don’t even think about picking this up unless you’ve read the first for books, but if you have and you’re stalled out after A Feast for Crows, then don’t worry: A Dance with Dragons picks things up again.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Plenty of ’em already over at the Book Blogs Search Engine.

First Line: The night was rank with the smell of man.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 49: “The one-armed smith had left few personal effects: the cup, six pennies and a copper star, a niello brooch with a broken clasp, a musty brocade doublet that bore the stag of Storm’s End.” – a black metallic substance, consisting of silver, copper, lead, and sulfur, with which an incised design or ground is filled to produce an ornamental effect on metal.
  • p. 253: “Grinning, Damon gave the horse a lick across the rump with his whip, and the old stot whinnied and lurched into motion.” – stot is a springing, bouncy gait of gazelles/antelopes, so in this case, I’m assuming it means a horse with a similar gait.
  • p. 492: “The arms of House Poole were a blue plate on white, framed by a grey tressure.” – a narrower diminutive of the orle (a border stripe on a shield that’s slightly inside of the edge), usually ornamented with fleurs-de-lis at the edges and often doubled.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2011 10:24 am

    I let myself be carried away by the pretty hardcover copy of this book… Now I need to read the three in-between this one and the first one… I need to stay away from bookstores…

    • September 8, 2011 9:39 am

      Kailana – It is pretty, isn’t it? So far I’m being good and waiting for the MMP to come out before I buy it for myself, but if the holds list at the library had been much longer, I might have revised that decision.

  2. August 31, 2011 11:09 am

    Reading this series is such a commitment, but my son’s loving it. Not sure it’s for me.

    • September 8, 2011 9:40 am

      Kathy – I’m going to say probably not for you, although as epic fantasy goes, it is one of the ones that’s a lot more like straight-up medieval historical fiction, with not all that much magic.

  3. August 31, 2011 3:30 pm

    I’m a book away from this one! Every time I glace over my friend’s shoulder while he’s reading this, I spoil myself a la “Oh, hey! that character is still alive!” kind of way :P

    • September 8, 2011 9:46 am

      Sharry – Heh! I think a good rule of thumb with this series is not to believe any one is actually really truly dead unless you see their dead-but-still-recognizable corpse on-screen. :)

  4. August 31, 2011 6:26 pm

    Thank goodness I’m not the only one who thought this was a pretty solid entry. The response seems to have been almost overwhelmingly negative on the fan front, largely driven by how long it took for the book to come out. I thought the epilogue had a jaw dropping reveal/plot twist.

    • September 8, 2011 9:49 am

      Elfy – I’m not best pleased with the split between books 4 & 5, but I think I heaped most of my ire on that front onto AFfC. :) This book may actually have been bumped up half-a-star or so, just out of sheer relief that it was a) finally published, and b) not terrible.

      I agree there was a big reveal in the epilogue, but that was another one I was sort of expecting… it didn’t play out at all like I thought it would, but it didn’t really surprise me, especially after having watched the TV series.

  5. August 31, 2011 8:04 pm

    I haven’t read this yet, because I want to wait and get it in mass market paperback, but I’ve been reading the Vulture recaps on NY Mag’s website. There’s a few things I am legitimately excited about, but I haven’t been interested in Dany since the first book. I anticipate that her chapters are going to be a slog.

    • September 8, 2011 9:52 am

      Jenny – Probably so, since I like Dany (she’s not one of my favorite characters, but I like her well enough), and I thought her chapters were the ones most in need of trimming. Mostly, though, I think I’m tired of the Slave Cities… she needs to hurry up and make with the re-conquering of Westeros, already, or at least start moving in that direction.

  6. September 2, 2011 3:24 am

    I am reading so much conflicting information about this book! My partner on my webcomic tells me that the book is formulaic and uneventful, and I’ve heard others say the same, but I also have a number of friends that agree with this post. I suppose I’m going to read it in any case. Sigh. This is the problem with not reading the book right when it is released; now I have a dozen or so opinions rattling around with my already (absurdly) high hopes.

    • September 8, 2011 9:55 am

      Jarod – I can honestly see both sides of the coin on that one; it’s certainly not Martin’s best, there is undeniably some bloat, and a lot of the action is more of the “setting up the pieces” variety. But on the other hand, I do think there is a fair amount of forward plot movement, even if it’s not “action” per se, and it’s so nice to be back with the characters that I really care about that I can’t ding it too badly, whatever its faults.

  7. September 4, 2011 7:38 am

    Martin has great lapses in between his books, but they are well, well worth it.

    • September 8, 2011 9:56 am

      Ondrej – I agree! I just wish there were even a semi-reliable timeline for the rest of the series.

  8. sean breckon permalink
    September 20, 2011 4:01 am

    Ok… Ive read all the books and absolutely agree with you, all of my favorite characters are in this one!!! It’s hard to stay true to reading it chapter by chapter sometimes though. Certain characters go so deep into they’re particular story that I feel like skipping to where they come up next in the book. I would have liked to see more of bran though. his story I feel kind of trailed off and was left hanging… I’m also very worried and anticipating what has become of my favorite character altogether (Snow). If what it seems like has happened to him, actually happened… I’m afraid I may not be that interested in the next installment.


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