Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review - A Dance with Dragons (No Spoilers)

It's been six long years since George R.R. Martin's last entry in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Since that time, he has been the subject of much speculation, both positive and negative. The HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones certainly helped to thrust the author into the limelight and most certainly helped to broaden his already large readership. It's probably no coincidence that his publisher chose to release the novel soon after the conclusion of the first season of the show. However, through all of this success there have been whispers of uncertainty; people began to suspect that Martin was losing steam, growing tired of writing the series. Doubt was forming - doubt that Martin would be able to wrap up his truly tangled web of intricate storylines.

A Dance with Dragons will not alleviate any of that doubt.

What the fifth novel in the series will do, however, is to continue Martin's tradition of rich prose and stylized writing. Martin weaves a truly breath-taking and vivid world, complete with social, political, economic, and religious undertones that has carried over from his first four books. Westeros and its world are a truly captivating canvas, and Martin paints details to life with the artistry of a master. Fan-favorite characters have returned after an extended wait: we see Tyrion, Danaerys, Jon Snow, and Bran all pick up their stories where we last them, almost 10 years ago. It's good to see these characters back in the novel, especially after A Feast for Crows introduced a slew of new ones that were difficult to relate to.

In terms of pacing, however, A Dance with Dragons seems to fumble in comparison to its predecessors. A lot of time is spent traveling by many different characters, all of them trying to reach places that they inevitably fail to reach. As I read chapter after chapter, I began to wonder - as I did in A Feast for Crows - if perhaps all of these chapters were really necessary. It seemed at times that page after page would pass by without either progression of the plot, or any significant character revelations. Instead, characters would march towards Mereen, or sail towards Mereen. And yet barely anybody actually reaches Mereen. In between all the marching, characters spend a lot of time composing inner monologues commenting on how they're reminded of other places, and new places, or old tales that seem like they ultimately have no bearing on the actual story; while some of these are interesting, they do seem to fluff out a book that seems too long to begin with.

Dance - similar to Feast - is also overly burdened with too many POV characters. For those of you familiar with Martin's series, POV is Point of View. Basically, each chapter is written from one out of as many as 16 perspectives. It's a necessary evil, I suppose, that Martin has been continuously adding perspectives; it's necessary because major POV characters are killed off in almost every novel. However, in A Dance with Dragons, it has become increasingly difficult to care about these new characters' perspectives, and I wonder - again - if they are truly necessary. 

Most stories do encounter a lull at some point, where progression and pacing seem to taper off for a bit. Perhaps A Dance with Dragons is just that - a necessary tedium that sets up the final two novels in the series. Ironically, Dance left me both wanting more and wishing Martin's editors had done a more generous job with their edits. The novel is not as strong as the first three novels, but for any fans of Martin's previous works, it is still a must-read.

Recommended For:
- George R.R. Martin Fans
- Readers invested into the Song of Ice and Fire series
- Historical Fantasy Fans
- Fans of San Guo (Romance of the Three Kingdoms - you know who you are)

Not Recommended For:
- Readers who have given up on the series - Dance will not change your mind.
- Impatient readers - you will most likely not be able to speed read through this novel
- People who think George R.R. Martin is going to die before he can finish the series.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am having a hard time getting through this book. There is no motivation to turn the page.
Way too many conversations with too many charaters.