(Spoiler-Free) Review of A Dance with Dragons

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 14, 2011 -- 7:17 p.m.

Woo! It finally came. In my younger years, I would have read this book straight through in one day, 1000 pages or no, but now I'm made of less stern stuff. I had to fit it into two.

The hardcover is beautiful. I just liked holding the book. I almost didn't want to read it, because it looks so pristine.

So what about the contents?

As always, George R.R. Martin is a fantastic worldbuilder and storyteller. It's easy to get swept away into Westoros. Between the return of old favorites characters, the addition of new favorites and the thickening of the plot, there was a lot here to love.

On the other hand, if you're new to Martin, just picking up his books after seeing the TV series, this probably isn't the place to start. Because this is dense, and the pacing can be a little frustrating.

Like its brother, Feast of Crows, this is a turning point in the series. This feels like it's going away from the mystery/political conflict that drove the first few books and becomes more of a travelogue. So there's a heavy heaping of wonder--I appreciated the idea of a medieval/magic leper type camp especially--along with lots of legends to unravel, but I think fans may miss the tightly wound plot of the first few books. Earlier, most of the storylines took place on the same continent and you could see more direct reactions on how characters' decisions affected one another. This time around, the threads here feel more spaced out.

There's definitely also a sense of 'darkest before the dawn.' We're hitting the middle of the series, which means that characters are going to suffer. And some of them suffer hard. There are no good choices, and some of the bright spots that used to lighten the tortured characters' souls are missing. Maybe fewer heads roll here, but it felt to me that this book offered fewer servings of hope than any other book in the series. And pretty much every plot ends on a cliffhanger, so don't expect too much satisfaction on that score. Though, since I've been studying G.R.R.M. for years and know his tricks well, I'm pretty sure I know where 90 percent of those cliffhangers are going to end. Yet he does manage to keep me guessing.

With all that said, would I still recommend A Dance with Dragons? Absolutely, if you don't mind dark fantasy. I feel it was worth the wait. While I may not see where everything is going now, the skill with which Martin handles his twists and turns convinces me that we are in capable hands. This book is a page-turner. About 400 in, I found myself struggling to put the book down. It kept calling, even when I had better things to do. I may not have liked this one as much as Storm of Swords, despite their comparable length, but it's still George R.R. Martin. And he's still fantastic. And some things are best savored slowly.

Still, I think the next book will be a test of fire. I think everyone was expecting more character convergences, but there wasn't much of that. If G.R.R.M. truly intends to end it all in two more books more, everything needs to be turned up a notch.


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