A Dance of Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5)
Author: George R. R. Martin
Release Date: 2011
Fans around the world eagerly await George R. R. Martin to finish and release “The Winds of Winter,” a book six years (and counting) in the making, following “A Dance with Dragons,” a book that took five years to write. Now that I’m caught up with those fans, I find myself in a different camp. I worry these books are just turning into as much of a slog for Martin to write as these last two have been to read. Both “A Dance of Dragons” and “A Feast of Crows” have managed to suck most of the fun out of this series in favor of hundreds upon hundreds of pages of shifting characters into place so Martin can (hopefully) provide a fitting conclusion to the series. Many of those characters are among the least interesting still standing in Westeros, or are relatively new and unimportant within the larger story.
Part of the pleasure of this series is a wide range of characters who rise and fall in surprising fashion, usually contrary to typical fantasy tropes. Book five of this series shows the downside of that style, as we spend large amounts of time with characters like Theon Greyjoy (wallowing at his lot in life), Davos Seaworth (who I normally enjoy, though apparently not while he’s sitting in a jail cell), Asha Greyjoy/ Victarion Greyjoy (the single most boring installments in the book), and Quentyn Martell (in an already long book, including this character with his conclusion with the dragons makes me wonder if George R. R. Martin is actually just hatefully trolling his readers at this point). Even normally interesting characters like Tyrion or Jaime manage to drag their feet and not advance the plot in this book.
The most interesting storylines are infrequently visited (Cersei, Barristan, Arya), although they might have benefitted by not being run into the ground by appearing as often as someone like Reek did. The only character that managed to appear in the book frequently and remain interesting throughout was Jon Snow. The Night’s Watch installments managed to toe the line of bringing detailed plot advancement and atmosphere while still staying entertaining. When shocking events happened in the plot, they were done well as it related to this group. I wish I could say the same for Stannis or Tyrion.
These books face several problems other literary works do not. Normally I don’t have the biggest moments spoiled for me by a superior recreation on television prior to reading it. Also, every comment GRRM makes at this point is analyzed and repeated so that even non-hardcore fans come into the books with more expectations and opinions than they would otherwise have. The problem is I didn’t read this book in a vacuum, so when the High Sparrow is mentioned I have a pretty exciting idea in my head about where that story is headed. Likewise, when GRRM states that he considered not writing these last two books and just doing a time jump to the next one, I’m realizing how inessential 90% of everything that’s happened in these two installments has been.
When Martin’s writing is focused on advancing the plot, he can deliver stories (“A Storm of Swords”) that are unequaled in their scope and quality. If he does plan on ending this series at some point, we can only hope he gets back to moving the plot forward instead of spending 1000 pages keeping characters where they are, especially if they are stuck on boats, or riding pigs, or in a jail cell.