A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Fire and Ice Book Five, George R.R. Martin (Bantam Books, 2011). FULL REVIEW

Grade: Δ Solid read, but only buy it if you like the genre.

***This volume is held up by the first three in the novel and would have received an Ε or Ζ had it not been for the excellent quality of the first part of the series. ***

 In brief:

When I posted my Page 419 pre-review review of A Dance with Dragons (see: http://wp.me/pWa2h-d0) I had really had hoped that the remaining 600 pages of the book would redeem this volume.  Sadly, it did not. Things do happen in this book, but it not enough to justify 1100 pages.  At this stage, I would highly recommend that one waits for the series to be complete before picking up any additional volumes.

Setting:

An increasingly complex and very well fleshed out High Fantasy World.  It includes magic, but not in the typical D&D High Fantasy style. Neither are there Tolkienesque non-humans (i.e. no elves, dwarves, orcs, etc., but does include fae like creatures, dragons and undead).  The story follows the human drama and political complexities between the multiple power factions that exist in a medievalesque kingdom that very vaguely resembles a scaled up geography of the UK (in that it is divided into three sections: The South, the North andScotland… er… sorry… Beyond the Wall). 

In Depth:

Several major reviewers have decided to call Martin the “American Tolkien.” So it is in that vein that I will begin with a simple comparison: 

My collector’s edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, all-in-one volume (Houghton-Mifflin, 1987) is 1215 pages.  In those pages, the author managed to build a world (well, significantly build upon a world he had previously described in brief in his 320 page prequel The Hobbit), describe a remarkably complex backstory, introduce a large cast of characters, develop several interrelated yet separate story lines, pull it all together for a satisfying conclusion, throw in several appendices and forwards, and create an entire genre of speculative fiction.  

My digital copy of A Dance with Dragons is exactly 1100 pages long (the hardback is 1040 pages), so it’s not quite as long as the entirety of Lord of the Rings, but close.  It is book five of the series, so it does not stand alone (at all).  In it, the plot does eventually move forward, but only after hundreds of pages of dithering by the central characters (all 277 of them).  Indeed, it was only at about page 853 that we actually see the World Threat storyline (The Others, for those of you who have read any of the other books) begin to actually move forward. Unfortunately, in the last couple of chapters several of the main POV characters undergo what one can only describe as storyline resets.  That is to say, at least two of the most important characters end up no further along than they had been at the beginning of Volume 1. 

Do not get me wrong, things occur in this book that do move the story forward.  Character lines begin to converge (though we are still waiting for any two of the really central characters from any of the main storyline houses — Stark, Lannister, Targaryen — to actually meet up),[1] but we also see new POV’s introduced, in many cases from characters who have been barely even mentioned in previous volumes.  We see plot complications that had no foreshadowing involving similarly barely mentioned characters and events, and we see dithering….

Oh the dithering. Jon dithers a bit, but at least we see some major events that build things towards a conclusion with him, but Daenerys…. she should have been called the Mother of Procrastination.

Still, events occur that move us forward.  Some of these events happen because of the choices of characters that have been central to the story throughout the previous four volumes.  Mostly, however, they occur due to previously tertiary characters who are suddenly given full forced POV status that pointlessly adds countless pages to the book.  Really, there are whole subplots that could have been seen from a previously existing character’s POV and/or told in conversation.  Instead we see well over a hundred pages devoted to character storylines that really need not have been told.  What is really irksome about this is that we see a hugely important storyline and character POV introduced in this volume with NO precedent.  It’s just dropped into the middle of the tale.  We are now well over halfway through the series as planned, but only just seeing things line up towards a possible conclusion. 

This, more than anything else, has broken my faith in Martin’s ability to finish this story in a truly fulfilling manner.  A Feast for Crows was 784 pages, A Dance with Dragons was 1040 (or 1100 in the digital layout), that’s 1824 pages in which not really a lot happens.  Oh the plot moves forward and character arcs build, but not enough to justify a something that is 1.5 times the size of the entire Lord of the Rings (indeed, it is larger than the entirety of LOTR and the Hobbit put together {1631 pages including forewords, appendices etc} and almost as long as the totality of LOTR, the Hobbit and the Silmarillion {a grand total of 1951 pages, inclusive}).  In fact, I suspect that if you were to really edit this down to elements of the telling that really move things forward for both key characters and plot, you could readily do it in about one third the amount of telling. 

When this is taken into account, I cannot help but think any comparison between Tolkien and Martin is terribly flawed.  In two thousand pages, Tolkien created a world, history, culture, language, mythology and numerous storylines in a manner that no one really had done before.  In about the same amount of pages, Martin barely moved forward less than a third of the storyline in his series.  Not really much of a comparison.

Perhaps I am wrong.  Perhaps Martin will pull off an ending in the last two books that surprise and delight me.  Certainly the first three books in the series did that.  I hope this is the case, and, indeed, I hope he does it before another twelve years has passed.


[1] Alright, for those of you who are sticklers, the Starks and Lannisters did all meet in book one, but we haven’t seen Tyrion meet up with any actually active Stark character (Jon, Arya, etc.) since the books started. Ditto with Jamie and Cersei.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Fantasy, High Fantasy, Identity, Political Drama, Post Modern, Serial, Series, Strong Characters, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Fire and Ice Book Five, George R.R. Martin (Bantam Books, 2011). FULL REVIEW

  1. Pingback: A Clash of Kings: Book Two of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), George R. R, Martin (HarpurCollins, 1999){Random House Audio, Narrator: Roy Doltrice) | The Archaeologist's Guide to the Galaxy.. by Thomas Evans

  2. Thank you for sharing your info. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am
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