Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: A Dance with Dragons

The day I bought A Dance with Dragons I walked away from the cash register and did a little fist pump, happy to be finally holding this book in my sweaty hands.  In my mind I was saying: "It's about fucking time!"  You see, I've been reading George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series since 1997, and in my poorer and more patient days I would even wait for the cheap-ass paperbacks to come out before reading the latest book. 

I own paperbacks of the first three books, which all feature the Stephen Youll cover art, (My preferred covers), and hardbacks of the latest two installments.  Sure, it doesn't make for the most attractive looking shelf display, but it represents how this series has been a part of my life for many long years.

Since I've been with the series from nearly the first printing, there has been a great deal of waiting associated with what I consider not only my favorite, but also the best fantasy series on the shelves.   That being said, once A Dance with Dragons was in my possession, I tried to avoid it, and read other things; I'd been waiting on the book, now the book could wait on me.  My plan lasted a whole two days before I caved and started reading. 

Being the petty, cynical reader that I am, before cracking the book, I sent a mental message to George; I've waited five long years.  This shit better be good.

It was immediately pleasing to jump right into consecutive Tyrion, Daenerys and Jon chapters; three characters whose plot developments were sorely missing from A Feast for Crows.  I loved the new maps, which depicted in greater detail parts of the world that play a huge role in this book.  I was also happy to see some other old favorite characters like Davos, Stannis and Mellisandre back in the mix. 

However, a couple hundred pages in, my "Oh my god I'm finally reading A Dance with Dragons!"euphoric high wore off and I settled into the book, finding plenty to enjoy and a few things here and there that rubbed me the wrong way.

I haven't read a single page of the A Song of Ice and Fire series since I finished A Feast for Crows and I found a few cracks in my memory regarding some of the finer points of the series. At the beginning I struggled to get a grip on the time line of events and how everything in this book aligned with the events of A Feast for Crows.  I eventually got it all together, but A Dance with Dragons was definitely a book that required my full attention at all times.  The overall story is at, what I hope, its widest point; there were times I struggled to hold all the strings and keep all the details straight in my head.  I'm assuming the narrative is at its widest point and will continuously narrow in the future books.

I was a little bit shocked, and pleasantly surprised to see that GRRM's prose has improved a great deal over the years. I don't know why this came as a shock to me...I guess I was so focused on catching up with certain characters, and seeing story events move forward that I wasn't focused on how much the man's skill had improved.  The guy is a skilled writer to begin with, but I felt like his description of events, people and places were better than ever. 

Martin has always been a writer who excels at making the reader feel like they are living and breathing the events of the story, and I really got that sensation from A Dance with Dragons.  My favorite aspect of the man's writing is definitely the fact that I find myself mentally yelling at characters as they take certain actions or say certain things.  His ability to evoke such strong reactions and get me riled up is a satisfying treat. 

It would be easy for me to simply bask in the joy of finally getting to read A Dance with Dragons and tell you that everything is all sunshine and rainbows, but that wouldn't be completely accurate. There are a couple dark clouds in the sky.

My first, very minor, gripe is that Martin still has a tendency to overuse particular words or phrases.  In the past books the term 'nuncle' would be a good example of this trend, and the word does rear it's ugly, ugly head a few times in this book as well.  The ones that really got me this time were 'leal' and 'wroth'.  The two words popped up far too often for my liking.  A phrase that came up more than once was 'as useful as nipples on a breastplate'.  True, it's a great metaphor and pretty funny, (I could see Renly having nipples on his armor), but it's shoulda been a one and done type deal.

My other gripe with the book is a bit more meaty.  I was pretty disappointed with the lack of plot development in regards to Tyrion and Daenerys.  Yes, some pretty big things did eventually happen with Dany, but it took a really long time for it to happen, and the build up to those events wasn't exactly exciting.  On the other hand, with Tryion, his story was pretty interesting, (but most anything regarding Tyrion is interesting) but I felt like his story didn't move very far either.  I guess I expected that the story would move further ahead than it did with A Dance with Dragons and that the focus of the story would narrow and start honing in on the home stretch. 

So, was this shit good, and was it worth the wait?  Yes, but A Dance with Dragons doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of the first three books.  Overall I was pleased with the book, but it may take me awhile to forgive Martin for fucking with my emotions so much towards the end.  Despite a few hang ups, A Dance with Dragons pretty much delivered all that I could have hoped for.  Yeah, I could have done with a bit more plot movement, but there's a great twist that adds an exciting new player to the game and gave this novel and world of Westeros an unexpected jolt.  Good stuff.

Here's to hoping only a couple of real life winters pass before we get to see winter fully descend upon Westeros. 

Grade: B+


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Dang, I've got to read this. My collection of this series looks pretty similar to yours (minus this book) and I'm very much looking forward to a giant reread. It will be epic.

Ryan said...

Yeah, you should read this one. But a reread might help. I did rereads of the series for ASoS and AFfC but neglected a reread for hindsight it probably would have made the early chapters read a bit more smoothly, as I spent some time sorting out the time line and jogging my memory.

Justin said...

Just picked up a used copy for $15. My memory of what happened in "Feast for Crows" is a little foggy so I may have to read a synopsis or two before I dig into "Dragons". I was really impressed with the HBO series and it's been a good refresher on all the major plot points of the series.

Ryan said...

Justin- Nice find. That's a lot of entertainment for $15.

There's plenty of good synopses out there. The Wertzone has some real good ones. You might have to dig back to his June archives to read them.

Agreed, the show has been great, but I still prefer the books. Sadly, I found myself picturing the TV show character's faces when I read ADwD.