on 17 July 2011
ADWD was a loooong time in the waiting, and since the previous book was a character-driven travelogue, it was generally believed that this would make up for it with plenty of action and plot resolution. Not so. This, like A Feast For Crows, is 1000 pages of scenic character study.
The characters travel about, and have immense conversations with other people. These conversations are fascinating, and you can see the characters develop (and not always for the best) as the book goes on. But action? Not that much. We have been invested with these amazing characters for 20 years now, so watching them develop is rewarding - but it seems to be at the expense of story momentum.
By the end, we're not much further along in plot than we were by the end of Book 3. But it's now starting to become apparent that GRRM's focus is on character first and foremost, and plot must fit in the small gaps whenever the character is allowed to plateau for awhile.
So the real standout storylines in this book are oddly, the ones with characters with the fewest chapters. Then, they have to be sharp, succinct, focused and dramatic. But the "Big Three" characters each get about a dozen chapters each, and as a result have bloated, fuzzy, rather impotent storylines, where they talk a lot and worry a good deal, and evolve or devolve as people, but don't get much further towards their respective goals.
A great many new characters are introduced, but oddly, are not detailed that well. An important new figure in Dany's storyline, Hizdahr, is sketched so vaguely that you never get a sense of him at all, and care even less. It seems GRRM is too fascinated by the Big Three to be much interested in the lesser roles.
GRRM's writing style can be visceral, beautiful, haunting, unforgettable. But his weakness is wandering away into asides that are full of description and backstory, and that tendancy seems to be getting much stronger with each passing book. His editor apparently reveres him too much to call a halt to the endless minutiae. Allowing for that, how he proposes to tie up all the myriad loose ends in two more books is beyond me. I can't see it happening. This feels at the moment like it may turn into a never-ending series.
I'm still a massive fan and would recommend the series as a whole - there are too many moments of beauty not to. But I may not be first in the queue next time, as I was for this one. I have re-adjusted my expectations somewhat.
on 27 August 2011
I am, I admit, new to A Song of Ice and Fire. I watched the fantastic series made by HBO and, as soon as the pilot ended, I picked up the books and fell in love. The first three volumes of this series, as any reader will know, are a tour de force of fantasy. A wonderfully realised world populated by fantastic characters that are loved and loathed to a high degree. An entanglement of plots is lightly touched by an unnerving thread of dark magic that lingers in the background to remind us that 'winter is coming'. I read the series, including the slower, less satisfactory 'A Feast for Crows' three times whilst waiting those couple of months for 'Dance'. Then this doorstop was in my hands and I read it eagerly, expecting a return to 'A Storm of Swords' quality.
I, like so many others, was vastly disappointed. This novel sees the return of the 'protagonists' of the epic: Jon Snow (who still knows nothing), Daenerys Targaryen (who has looked back and is now facing the wrong direction) and everyone's favourite sarcastic dwarf Tyrion Lannister. However, these three fan favourites accomplish precisely one act of significance between them, and that is a vastly annoying cliffhanger-a now overused hallmark of Martin's writing.
Jon Snow, stuck on the wall, is struggling to hold several factions together in the face of the approaching war with the Others in the long winter (which is supposedly still on its way, despite no evidence of it in this book). There are interesting parallels with Daenerys, who is trying to rule a city of people and customs that are not her own and who would gladly see her dead. Both of these young leaders struggle in their tasks. Jon grows into his position as a leader with satisfying, if not entirely realistic, maturity. His story arc is arguably the best of the three, but it ends in the most disgusting, hackneyed 'plot twist' I have ever seen. It WILL annoy the seven hells out of you.
Daenerys actually DEVOLVES as a character. The strong-minded young woman from 'A Storm of Swords' has lost her fire and dithers around doing nothing for the entire book. The effect is, of course, to show that the dragon queen has much to learn about ruling (though this does not dent her huge entitlement complex). However, this could have been shown in less than half of her chapters, with the rest devoted to some progression-whether meeting more of the legions of people sailing her way, or getting to Asshai, or reuniting with the Dothraki or...or...SOMETHING. Instead, she remains ineffectual throughout the whole book, proving to be the young (and hormonal) girl that she claims to be, despite previously being a competent leader in control of her own emotions. This 180 degree turn is exceptionally annoying, but this is not the biggest disservice done by Martin to his characters.
Tyrion Lannister, once the favourite of 90% of the fanbase, is reduced to wandering around asking where whores go, turtle-watching and playing chess. He is one of the many characters on his way to meet Daenerys, and this journey takes the entire book. And he still doesn't get there. His chapters, once full of intrigue, character development and humour, are a vapid travelogue-and not even a good one. Whilst he does develop (his interaction with Penny the dwarf is touching and exposes how good he did have it in Casterly Rock), he loses much of his charm and all of his humour. Bitterness is understandable in his position, but something about the way this bitterness is conveyed is unconvincing and unpalatable.
What about everyone else? Arya's scenes are entertaining as always, Bran's are interesting if sparse. Davos' chapters are among the most enjoyable due to his meeting one of the best characters yet introduced-Wyman Manderley (why are Martin's side characters always more interesting than his main ones?), Theon's are haunting and disturbing, and 'disturbing' is cranked up to eleven in this book. If rape, mutilation, bestiality, cannibalism, torture, voyeuristic humiliation, intense diarrhea and even more intense stupidity offends you, give this a miss. New point of view, Ser Barristan Selmy, is fantastic, and the only well-done viewpoint in Essos. Everyone else is largely dull and uninspired, and most people do nothing but travel around. One 'huge' reveal of a character that was supposed to be dead is flat and poorly executed. It produces a 'oh.' rather than a 'WOAH :O'
Which leads me to my actual point:
This is a book with several plot arcs building up to several promising climaxes. None of these climaxes arrive. We miss out on two major battles, we see Brienne (who ended 'Feast' in a cliffhanger) for a couple of pages which answer no questions before she whisks off Jaime Lannister into ANOTHER cliffhanger, several people are STILL travelling to meet Daenerys having accomplished nothing, and several people may or may not be dead. It is as if Martin bought himself two prize racehorses, Cliffhanger and Playing Around With Character Deaths, shot both of them and proceeded to beat them with a typewriter. A long, largely dull mess of travelogues leads to no climax, no katharsis, nothing of anything. It was a vast disappointment with a few high points, and I didn't have to wait for six years for it. I feel sorry for those souls who had a long wait filled with bad PR and timewasting on the part of the author. I fell in and out of love with this series in remarkably quick time, and I will be recommending this book to no one. Is winter coming? It is not known.
on 14 August 2011
It's been quite the wait for the latest installment of G.R.R.Martin's (GRRM) A Song of Ice and fire series and during the wait there have been some very impressive new additions to the fantasy field (Abercrombie, Bakker, Lynch and Abraham). So I was interested to see whether the quality still holds up with the new competition. The first thing I have to say is that, yes it does. GRRM is still the master when it comes to his characterisation and world building and whenever he writes a key scene (and there are several) he will have you laughing, crying, dropping your jaw and cheering as it becomes etched in your memory.
So why is it missing a star? The book clocks in at almost 1000 pages and that's without taking into consideration that "A Feast for Crows" was the essentially the first "half" of this segment in the series. Despite all this room the book fails to reach any conclusions in practically every story strand. I wasn't expecting the whole series to wrap up but I do think the Meereen storyline at the very least should have reached some kind of conclusion. As it is the book ends leaving me with the feeling we still haven't had what feels like a story within a larger story. What makes this even more frustrating is that there are many chapters where not a lot really happens. I don't think so much time had to be spent on the fact Dany couldn't make a "good" decision and was obsessed with a new love interest. While Tyrion is always entertaining the majority of his chapters were like some hobbit version of the Odyssey. One character only ever got to travel throughout the whole book and Quentyn Martell could have appeared several chapters later without anything being lost. These things left me wondering why so much story was potentially wasted on them. In contrast characters like Bran, Davos, Cersei and Arya have very few chapters but they all contain moments of great importance for the characters and the overall plot. Basically I would have preferred that all the characters had been treated with a sharper editing knife as this may have made it possible to give the book a more satifying end.
Not to sound too negative though there are some brilliant moments in the book. The developments in the North and the story arc of "Reek" are the most complete in the book. "Reek's" chapters are particularly clever as there is a nice psychological arc in which even the chapter's titles play a part. Reek's chapters also highlight some of GRRM's strongest writing skills, which is writing about really horrible yet three dimensional antagonists. Jon's chapters are also very strong and his reaction to a similar scenario that Dany is facing makes for an interesting comparison. Bran's chapters introduce a whole new aspect to the story and gives GRRM a nifty new writing device that he uses in intersting ways in this book and I'm sure will develop further for the remainder of the series.
In conclusion, GRRM is still writing the premier fantasy series of the last couple of decades but ever since "A storm of swords", it feels like he has abandoned the idea of releasing books. This means that when/if the series ever concludes I'm sure I'll rate the whole thing highly. The problem is that it now feels like I'm receiving chunks of story every 5-10 years making it hard to give the latest book a perfect score. I'm also incredibly skeptical of the series wrapping up by book seven unless the remaing books become far more efficient, something which hasn't been witnessed in the last two books.
on 2 August 2011
It's taken me a couple of weeks of reflection to decide whether or not Dance With Dragons was a decent-to-good addition to A Song of Ice and Fire or had taken the series further down the spiral towards mediocrity and filler which started with the 4th book, A Feast for Crows. I'm sorry to say that, quite frankly, the book is (with the exception of a couple of character arcs) a disaster and will take quite a stunning return to form on the part of George R.R. Martin to revive the series.
The positives in this book consist are as follows:
The Theon Greyjoy chapters which (while very painful to read) are amongst the strongest stuff Martin has written and make Theon's character development from A Game of Thrones to Dance with Dragons arguably the most intriguing of all characters.
The scenes involving Lord Manderley - who has come out of nowehere to become a firm fan favourite. I will not elaborate on how this character features as to do so would require spoilers but I will say that his scenes in the Davos Seaworth chapters provided the first genuinely uplifting moment I've had in this series in 10+ years.
I'm afraid that's all i can muster on the positive front. There are another couple of chapters/characters/subplots which are certainly interesting (Bran,Arya) but are so fleeting and incomplete that they merely add to the frustration with the book.
The negatives in this book:
Of the 'Big 3' characters - Jon, Dany, Tyrion - none are on form and the latter two in particular suffer in some of the most appallingly written chapters Martin has committed to paper. While Tyrion as a character is more or less recognisable his 'journey' is so mind numbingly dull and pointless that you find his chapters to be a chore. He picks up the most preposterous and unnecessary side-kick who a previous reviewer has quite aptly described as being this series answer to Jar-Jar Binks. Dany has had a personality transplant and has become, to be honest, a seriously silly little adolescent girl. The difference between the Dany of the first 3 books and the idiotic Dany of this installment is so great - it's as if she's become possessed by Sansa's naive pre Ned execution personality (that is, if Sansa had also been a bit of a slut) - that it is actually jarring and you find yourself sighing at the sight of her name starting any chapter. Jon Snow is more or less the same and we do get some interesting developments at the wall but his arc is left on a totally needless cliffhanger which will no doubt take some 6+ years for us to resolve given Martin's current writing speed.
There are several chapters (Jamie/Cersei) which quite clearly should have been part of A Feast for Crows (and would have geniunely improved that book) and clearly stick out in this installment.
Victarion/Ironborn chapters add nothing. Stannis finally goes somewhere then gets caught in a blizzard for pretty much the entirity of the book (a fair metaphor for Martin's progress with this series over the last 11 years).
Pointless description/waffle/travelogue - as many (MANY) other reviewers have pointed out this book is very bad for filler and repititions. One might think that the book had gone straight from GRRM's computer to the printing presses without the intermediate stage of proof-reading/editing. Even if this was the case you would think that Martin himself would be capable of editing some of the truly inexcusable filler out of this book but since writing Storm of Swords he seems to have become incapable of discriminating between relevant, concisely written plot developments and waffling descriptions of foodstores/eating/diarrhoea.
In conclusion, you could combine this book with A Feast for Crows and cut some 1000-1200 pages from the resulting tome and you would have a decent addition to the series. It would still be the weakest installment thus far but it would be infinitely better than what we have in the two seperate books.
on 28 July 2011
The clock ticks down. Finally, 950 pages of Dance drops through the letter box with a satisfying thump. Full marks Amazon; good price; delivered early; perfect condition. With slightly held breadth I scan through the chapter headings; Tyrion, Jon and Danny are featured strongly - at last a return to the action packed first three books. As I stop flicking the pages, my eyes light on the description of a woman getting cold in a dungeon; Cersei is back in the story meaning that the two lines are integrated and moving forward together again. With a deep and satisfied sigh I sit down to enjoy the rewards of my patience. weeks pass.
Now looking back, I wonder what happened. Yes, each page of the story is sort of interesting; over detailed but interesting. But nothing of any note happens throughout the story. Nothing. As I look at the book from the side there are too many dog ears and they are just too close together, mute testament to my impression that Dance is too easy to put down.
In closing, Martin finishes this book with a comment something like, the last one was a bitch this was three bitches and a bastard. I just wonder why he is writing something that he does not enjoy. If he cannot take pleasure in the writing we will not enjoy the product which will take another 5 years to appear.
So, if you have not bought it already, do wait for the paperback. And if you can set your expectations low, you will enjoy Dance all the more when you get around to reading it.
on 2 August 2011
This is a difficult review to write, as I don't want to post any spoilers, so won't be making many plot or character-specific comments.
For most of ADWD I was wondering when something was going to happen. It took a long time (the best part of 70% of the way through, I think). And, when something big and exciting did happen (and it only really happens once), it was almost like stepping back to A Storm of Swords, back when the characters were mesmerising and the shocks were shocking. But then it was over, a cliffhanger was left, and that character was not seen again until the end of the book. The excitement lasted for, at most, five pages.
To be clear, I didn't hate it. There are many aspects that are handled with Martin's usual flair: one new viewpoint character who fights for Dany's cause, especially, and another returning one who had been put through some real trials to the point where he struggles to remember his own name. Arya's training continues to intrigue as well.
But most of this novel seemed to move things on very little. It reintroduces favourite characters who had been withdrawn from A Feast For Crows for the sake of length. This splitting of characters and locations was a huge mistake that has pretty much scuppered both books, in my opinion. There is a lot of treading water here, a lot of needless obstacles thrown in the way just to stop characters getting where they need to be. It's not boring. It's just not really anything, and that's the problem. You know that, by the end, you're not going to find any resolution at all, and it is frustrating.
I think GRRM needs to take a look at Steven Erikson. Erikson wrote a ten book series, and each book in that series - barring the ninth one - had it's own story with a beginning, middle and end, whilst still advancing the main plotlines. Erikson didn't really do cliffhangers, yet the readers still flocked back. Love him or hate him, you've got to give him credit for that, at least. George should take note.
As it stands, I think the next book needs to be very special to really win me back. He's got two books to wrap it up, and he needs to get a move on. I won't be at all surprised if he extends the series even further. This book has left me disappointed but, to be honest, quite unsurprised. Perhaps that's the most telling aspect of it all, for me.
Re the Kindle edition: the formatting is poor. There is a nasty recurring problem in that one character will finish talking and then another will start, but there's no line break so you carry on reading like it was the first character talking. It meant I had to keep pausing and working it out. Very annoying, and it happens all the way through the book.
on 23 July 2011
Remember when you were a kid in school and were forced to read some incredibly boring book because it was a 'classic'? And remember how you ploughed your way through it wishing that something, anything would happen to relieve the tedium of reading long winded exposition, description and dialogue?
Well I'm sorry to say that at times I found myself thinking the same thing about A Dance With Dragons as I did about Silas Marner. Not all the time and certainly not enough to make me want to throw the book to the floor screaming enough!.... but sometimes.
Don't get me wrong, Mr Martin can write and there were occasions when I was genuinely astonished and surprised by events, but, not nearly often enough in a book of this length.
It almost seems as if the author wasn't quite sure where he was heading with his story or as if he got lost and meandered around for several thousand words before he got himself back on track.
All of my favourite characters were there but some of the people just seemed to disappear completely, and some only made brief and very frustrating cameo appearances.
I'm enjoying the Arya arc and looking forward to seeing what the next book has in store for her, but judging from how some characters are treated in this book, there is a possibility that she may completely disappear, never to be heard from again.
Tyrian has been placed on a stationary bicycle, throughout the book he's pedaling, very slowly, and getting nowhere. Dany has changed from the mother of dragons who won the heart of Khal Drogo to a lovesick girl, ruled by her hormones and damn the consequences. And poor Jon Snow, well, he's spent so much time on the Wall waiting for winter that he must be freezing to death.
And Cliffhangers?? they may be acceptable plot devices in TV shows or even films, but must we wait another 6 years to find out if '------- ' is really dead ? Unbelievable.
Note to Mr Martin ; I'm no spring chicken and at this rate I may not live long enough to read the end of the story so please, write faster and cut down a little on the length, my husband grew tired of letting me prop the book up against his back.
Another turgid tome packed with anal minutiae re family trees and what people are wearing where the good characters are killed off and new ones introduced who you don't care about. (And then killed off) The story progresses like a snail with an anvil tied round its neck and I continually asked myself why I was reading it? There is I think more action in this than the previous Feast for Crows which I thought was dire.
Why you may ask have I continued reading these books given my negativity? Well it's because the first ones were so good, I keep hoping for the best and that the magic will return?
I think in reality though that its going to be a rare case of the TV people doing a better job than the author who seems to have ran out of puff.
I will read the Winds of Winter if it ever comes out, I just hope that the author gives us some resolution to at least some of the story lines he's created and rewards us for our patience.
on 26 July 2011
I'm a huge fan of the series and had high expectations for this book, heightened by the extremely long wait since the last one. Sadly, the book didn't live up to billing I'd given it. It's desperately in need of some editing. The three main story arcs of the book (Jon, Tyrion and Dany) are very slow moving, and while Mr. Martin is very adept at creating atmosphere and building wonderfully deep and lifelike characters it would have been nice if there had been a little more plot development in their stories. Dany's chapters I found particularly painful, as at least Jon and Tyrion's chapters had some humour to get me by.
I read a couple of early reviews which promised resolution of previous cliffhangers, and the beginnings of the whole storyline coming together. Unfortunately this couldn't be further from the truth. Far more questions were raised than answered and a large number of new characters were introduced, few of whom grabbed me enough to care much about. I'll eat my Kindle if Mr. Martin can wrap this up in two more books.
One of the biggest problems for me is that the story has become so large and spread throughout the world that GRRM has created that none of the main characters ever interact with one another. It seems a waste to have all these wonderful characters and then keep them apart for the entire 800 pages. Not once do Dany, Tyrion, Jon, Arya, Bran, Theon, Sansa (who doesn't even appear once), Cersei, Jaime or Davos appear in the same room together (or the same city/continent for that matter) and it's left to minor characters to interact with them.
It's not all bad news. Bran and Arya have a couple of excellent chapters each (I could read a whole book just about Arya), and the Theon chapters were a very pleasant suprise. GRRM has excelled himself turning a character that many readers had little love for in the previous books into someone to actually care about.
There are a couple of truly suprising moments in the book that will have you on the edge of your seat and thankfully it's just enough to keep the reader interested. Overall it's my least favourite of the series and I can't say I'm not disappointed. I'll definitely read the next one, albeit with a sense of trepidation.
on 29 March 2014
I love Game of Thrones! The first 3 books (and the 4th book- though to a lesser extent) are amazing and when I was reading them I didn't want to put them down as I was so absorbed in GRRM's world. This book, however, took me a lot longer to get through as I feel I had to force myself to read it. At the start it was ok, I was loving all the wonderful descriptions but as the book goes on and all these descriptions just keep coming but with virtually nothing actually happening to the characters. They seem to be going nowhere or at least not going anywhere fast and it starts to get boring. The only character's story that I felt was interesting and didn't get boring was Theon's.
Overall, this book was very disappointing. It felt very long winded and some parts (particularly the descriptions) could easily have been edited out and replaced with more development of the storyline.