Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Dance With Dragons Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: George R. R. Martin
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire Book Five
Pages: 1,040

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(Spoilers for the previous four books in A Song of Ice and Fire are below).

A Feast For Crows, the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series left the promise that its second half would be appearing around a year later.  Oh how wrong that promise was, six years after A Feast For Crows was published A Dance With Dragons was finally released.  With characters like Daenarys, Jon and Tyrion missing from the last book, fans of the series had to wait over eleven years to find out what happened to them next.

A Dance With Dragons is the missing half of A Feast For Crows.  Martin divided these books in two, geographically.  The northern and far eastern halves of Martin’s stories take center stage in this book.
A Dance With Dragons, like its predecessor, focuses on looking inwards into the characters, their motivations, their pasts, and their desires.  There is more action and violence in A Dance With Dragons than A Feast For Crows, but it doesn’t reach the levels of violence seen in A Storm With Swords.  Ultimately this is a book that sets readers up perfectly for the final two installments of the series, leaving people with more questions than answers.

Daenarys Targaryen rules in Meereen, forestalling her planned invasion of Westeros.  As she learns to rule, the former slavers begin to plot against her and attempt to remove her from power.  The story of her dragons have now spread far and wide and many now seek her out.

The quest to find Daenarys includes Quentyn Martell, who plans on luring Daenarys back to Dorne to fulfill his and his father’s desire for fire and blood.  Victarion Greyjoy also plans on making contact with Daenarys in order to overthrow his brother Euron Greyjoy as the King of the Iron Islands.  Finally, the recently exiled Tyrion Lannister begins his journey east to find the dragons and the power that set them loose upon the world.

Jon Snow has become the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.  On the Wall he struggles to make peace between Stannis’s army, the men of the Night’s Watch, and the Wildlings who had been taken prisoner.  The Bolton’s who now rule the north and oppose Stannis also began to secure their newly created realm.  Bran’s journey with the Reeds and Coldhands continues north of The Wall where he looks to learn from the The Three Eyed Crow.

A Dance With Dragons has the most narrators of any of the books in the series thus far.  Four new narrators are introduced, excluding the prologue and epilogue chapters.  These narrators are Quentyn Martell, Jon Connington, Barristan Selmy, and Melisandre.  Returning narrators include Arya, Tyrion, Jon, Daenarys, Bran, Jaime, Cersei, Areo, Asha, Victarion, Davos, and Theon.

Theon Greyjoy, Bran Stark, and Jon Snow have not been my favorite characters in A Song of Ice and Fire but after this book its hard not to appreciate what great characters they are.

Bran brings us to The Three Eyed Crow, and subsequently this introduces readers to more of the elusive magical elements that have been underscoring the entire series.

Jon Snow has been a whiny child through many of the books, but at the end of the third book he starts to shape up, and the trend continues in this book, too.
Theon Greyjoy’s return is a welcome re-addition to the story.  He arguably has the greatest chapters in this book, and his character begins to grow increasingly complicated.  He bares a lot of similarities to Smeagol/Gollum from Lord of the Rings, due to his lack of belonging with any one group of people in the story, and because of his frequently switching identities and loyalties.

Daenarys manages to hold her own in this book, and a lot of the tension in the eastern chapters centers around her possibly meeting various characters that fans of the series have wanted her to meet, specifically Tyrion Lannister, Quentyn Martell, and Victarion Greyjoy.  The looming threat of war also adds more tension to her storyline, as well as the discovery of the Targaryen past through the knowledge of Barristan the Bold.

Tyrion is unfortunately not as good of a narrator as he has been in the previous books.  He has some great chapters in this book, but there are also chapters that feel more like filler when he is at the narrating helm.  That being said Tyrion’s fall from grace can be a bit hard to read at times.

All four of the new narrators bring new elements to the story, or bring knowledge of previous stories that many questions have been asked by readers as the series has progressed.  Barristan Selmy starts to give readers more of a glimpse of the past of Rheagar Targaryen, Quentyn Martell continues to elaborate on his father’s plot to bring Fire and Blood to the Seven Kingdoms, and Jon Connington could be throwing a huge wrench into Daenarys plans to become Queen of Westeros if she ever decides to leave Meereen.

Melisandre though only has one chapter, and the speculative analysis that can be generated from it is very engaging, and like the Bran chapters it again introduces readers to some of the more magical concepts the series has shown.  In addition to this, some of the religious concepts that are practiced by the mysterious red priests are also mentioned.

A Dance With Dragons is a transitional book like A Feast For Crows.  Martin originally conceived of A Song of Ice and Fire as a trilogy, but the number of books written have gone way past that. However, it’s very easy to see the trilogy structure underlying the seven books of the series.  The first three books represent the first book of the planned trilogy while the fourth and fifth books represent the second book of the planned trilogy.  Like all good second books in trilogies, the set up for what’s going to happen in the final book has to be laid out, and that’s what the Feast and the Dance are doing.  When The Winds of Winter begins I look forward to the bang it promises to start with.

Score: 9.6

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