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once more into the breach dear friends
on 21 April 2012
After what seems like an ice age the paperback versions of the next volume of the Ice and fire saga (Volume 5) finally makes it to the book shelves, split into two parts "Dreams & Dust" followed by "After the Feast", both of a size to give even Stephen King an inferiority complex. Surely there are enough pages in these two books to bring this saga to a satisfying conclusion. Not a chance. Volume 6 is likely to be out in 2015 whilst the final volume (please God) threatens to follow some time after that, assuming that GRRM hasn't died of old age before then.
Any new reader, tempted by the HBO TV series, to jump ahead and start here forget it, you won't have a clue as to half of what is going on. These books are for only for those of us who have read through the entire series, and even then if it was some time since you last read the previous books you might want to re-read them before starting with Dreams & Dust.
The books may have the majesty and unstoppable power of a glacier but unfortunately the story progresses with the speed of a glacier as well almost to the point that it becomes an endurance to continue. Fortunately GRRM's writing style keeps you reading even when you feel that the story is going nowhere.
It sometimes seems that not a single slave or simple spear carrier can be mentioned without GRRM developing them into a fully fleshed out character, with their own story arc, usually before having them come to gruesome end or dissappear possibly never to be mentioned again.
This is all very well but there are already dozens of characters already living and dying in the world he has created that we, the reader, have previously grown to care for- love/hate cheer on/boo. Volume 4 (A feast for Crows) suffered much the same, placing half the stablished characters in limbo so that the story arcs of the other main characters could in theory be advanced, but it kept getting sidetracked with new characters and Dreams & Dust repeats the trick but this time with those main characters who were mostly left out last time. So Brienne left about to hang at the end of Volume 4 is ignored and instead we get much more Tyrion (admittedly an interesting character and always a bonus).
As I've said, this would probably work if more plot-lines didn't keep being added to the mix. It also is confusing that a greater part of Dreams & Dust covers the same time line as volume 4 but with the action viewed from different perspectives. So there is a strong sense of treading water until GRRM has got all his characters just where he wants them. (And we the reader have to like it or lump it).
Volume 2 "After the Feast" does start to pick up the pace a bit and you finally start to get a sense that the main story arcs will eventually have a convergence, even if it is clearly still some way off.
Worth getting if you've read all the others but I've got the feeling that GRRM is only just holding it all together.
And what on earth has happened to Rickon Stark?