Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: A Dance with Dragons

Well, I've finished the fifth installment in George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice. Or maybe it's A Song of Ice and Fire? I just call it 'big stabby, dragon book' in my head.

The story picks up in Westeros, where the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, began. Originally, this book and the previous book were to be one, but they got too long. So we have to backtrack in time some.

Jon Snow, the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch is dealing with the end of the battle for the wall, the appearance of Stannis Baratheon, the sinister workings of the Lady Melisandre, and the politics of leading men who don't necessarily trust him. Of all the characters, I never really cared for Jon Snow, but I can't quite explain why.
Across the narrow sea we finally get to catch up with Daenerys Targaryen, as she sits the throne as Queen of Meereen. Everything is not as she hoped, it is taking far too long to free the slave cities and she has grown restless waiting to return home to Westeros. We never get quite enough of Daenerys in the first four books, but we seem to make up for it here. Too much. A good chunk of her story is councils and talking with her advisers, and her dragons are locked away in the basement, because they've grown too large and unruly. This is not the dragon queen I wanted.
Cover Image via LibraryThing (which is via Amazon)
Tyrion Lannister is on the run after he killed his father, with a quarrel to the chest while Tywin sat on the toilet. It was a perfect end for the awful man. Having watched the TV show and read the books, I'm continually amazed at how perfect Peter Dinklage is for the role. Tyrion is my favorite character, but I try to keep a distance. Martin has a history of killing off your favorites.
Cersei is in prison. I can't imagine a better place for such a horrible person. I practically cheered when they threw her in the cell. She was crazy with power, thinking herself such a great ruler, but clearly has no acumen for the role.
Arya, meanwhile, continues to live in the free cities. I'm interested to see what role she will play. Her story is caught in a holding pattern and she deserves her vengeance against the Lannisters.

As with all the books in the series, Martin is unafraid to kill off characters. There are many readers who get annoyed, but I continually feel that he stays true to life. In movies and books, the heroes are always surrounded, but they find a way to get out. In Martin's books, the hero is surrounded and then they die, because you can't fight your way out of some things.
It is a bit longer to read than I prefer. Taking additional time to catch us up with the stories of those we didn't get to in the previous book. Also, it was rather annoying to have to backtrack, because it took half the book to get to new action.

Overall, I still love these books. I'm somewhat disappointed that I'm finished with the fifth, because they don't expect the sixth to come out until December 2014 (at the earliest, but Martin is always pushing his dates back). At no point would these books be appropriate in a school library. There may be the odd student who is ready for such dark, high fantasy, but even then I would hold off on recommending these. There were a couple of scenes that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and the general tone of the series constantly seeks to remind you of the stark awfulness of life.

LibraryThing Review:
The fifth installment in the high fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, A Dance with Dragons picks up where the fourth installment began. This time we follow the stories of those we missed in the previous book: Daenerys Targaryan, as she battles against slavery and builds her army. Jon Snow, as he struggles to learn his new role as Lord Commander. Reek (Theon Greyjoy) as he plays a role in giving the Bolton's legitimacy. Tyrion Lannister on the run after murdering his father. There are many other minor characters as well, whose perspectives help clarify the story, although it tends to muddle it a bit as the reader struggles to remember who they are and where they fit in. Martin's massive tome is filled with wry humor, bloody battles, horrifying violence, cliffhangers, politics, intrigue, and he is never afraid to kill off a character. The story does not progress as quickly as many readers would like, especially considering the first half of the book is a rehash of many of the events in the fourth book, although from a different perspective. Definitely only for adults, but not necessarily for fantasy fans, this book will leave you wishing the sixth would get here faster.

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