It has been 5 years, 1 hit television series, and 13 Emmy nominations since George R.R. Martin’s last installment in his epic A Song of Ice and Fire series. His newest book, A Dance with Dragons, book 5 out of a planned 7, picks up where A Feast for Crows (book 4) left off. Sadly for fans, “Dragons” follows the downward trend in quality started with “Crows”.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” says Tyrion in a mid-book passage. “The man who never reads lives only one.” With that GRRM suggests that the continued reading of his epic fantasy series is prudent. (I think this 1,000-page lunker is worth at least 10 lives.) Sadly, he’s wrong. That honor is saved for better-written novels, books with a cohesive plot unlike this tedious behemoth. What makes “Dance” so tiresome and unreadable? Easy: nothing happens.
Well, that’s not exactly true, plenty happens, it just feels that nothing is happening—even during crucial chapters. The book is cluttered with so many pages of lineages and expository digressions and has so little to offer in terms of content-rich material that you could simply read the last two pages of each chapter and miss no great plot points.
Pacing, as it turns out, does not seem to matter to GRRM anymore, as the tidy 9 point of view A Game of Thrones has now bloated to 18. This influx of POV characters has clogged the vital arteries of this series, making the stream of content seem like just a trickle. I even found myself skipping chapters of unimportant new characters. Why? Because I just don’t give a damn about them. The realm is too massive to be concerned with every single contender for the iron throne. What I really care about is what will happen to the remaining characters established in the first book. That means everyone from house Stark, house Lannister, house Targaryen, and Reek—but only because his storyline is a uniquely rich one. Focus on those characters—the ones we love. Not newcomers like Quentyn Martell, the watcher, Victarion Greyjoy, and Jon Cunnington. The series is coming to an end and GRRM is expanding rather than tightening up, which seems counter-intuitive to me.
Though tedious, this book does have some unforgettable moments. Remember how angry you were at the end of Game of Thrones and A Storm of Swords? Well, its time for pissed off kill off III, featuring another beloved POV character. (Speaking from experience, fasten your book to something sturdy when reading the final chapters—this book is massive and very dangerous when thrown angrily across the room.)
If you are the type of reader who can stomach long, uneventful, slightly disappointing reads, or are a returning fan of the series, then you will probably enjoy this book. If you like to read books that go somewhere without numbing your brain into oblivion with exposition—then stay very far away. If you’re only reading the series now because of the HBO show—then shame on you, these books have been out since the mid 90’s, way to need a television drama to “get with it”.
Having said all that, GRRM has positioned himself for an utterly fantastic final 2 books. The table is set, and the pieces are moving. It’s going down…in another 5 years…