Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Dance With Dragons: Book Five of a Song of Fire and Ice

A Dance With Dragons: Book Five of A Song of Fire and Ice
By George R.R. Martin

I'm there. I'm finally there!

Two years and 4884 pages later, I'm finally caught up. As of today (May 21, 2013, 26 days after starting the latest installment) I am completely up to date on The Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin. It's been a long and grueling road. At points I thought I'd never get to this point. I'd like to thank R'hollor, the Seven and the old gods as well as my agent, Petyr Baelish, my publicist, Cersei Lannister and my spin doctor, Davos Seaworth. Davos! Dude! We did it! I owe you a bushel of onions! Wait... wait! Before you cue the music, I'd just like to say that now that I am caught up, I wish I wasn't. I wish I could dive right back into Martin's world.  I'm completely hooked in and I'm not sure what I'm going to do while waiting for the next installment. 

Yeah, that's right. I'm a fully converted and completely unrepentant Game of Thrones fanboy. Sue me.

So it should come as no surprise that I say, without hyperbole, that this series has been the single greatest undertaking in my reading career. It has been every bit as monumental as reading the Old Testament, as thoroughly time-consuming as Infinite Jest and as satisfying as completing my first Shakespeare play in the ninth grade (Twelfth Night for those keeping score at home). But what sets Martin's series apart from those other reading peaks is the sheer scale of the series. 

A Song of Fire and Ice has thrice the number of characters as the Old Testament (There might be more Freys alone than characters in the entire Book of Genesis), four times the amount of pages as Infinite Jest and.... well, okay, Shakespeare is still a better writer than George R.R. Martin, but he's at least in the same ballpark when it comes to writing epic histories. And there's still two books to go!

Furthermore, As of today I join the legion of fans eagerly awaiting The Winds of Winter. More precisely, because I have not seen a single second of the television series I can count myself among the bookishly elite uber-nerds who have forsaken the television series in a vainglorious quest to keep the series intellectually pure. My vision of Daenerys Targaryen is a unique snowflake that will remain untarnished by the creative limitations of the boob tube. How many of the readers of the series can say that? Sometimes living in Taiwan has its perks. One of them is the ability to completely avoid American popular culture if the need arises (as it does here and in the case of Justin Beiber, reality television and the cult of celebrity).

As well, I can now join the increasing cacophony of impatience bombarding Martin as he works furiously (alas, not furiously enough to satisfy this reader) to finish the series (Please take care of yourself Mr. Martin and, please, consider moving closer to a healthcare provider in case you suffer any unexpected medical emergencies). Sure, I'm joining the back of the line, but I am officially in that line and I'm guessing that you are now. (The law of averages says that the last sentence will be true of most of the visitors to this site. If that last sentence does not pertain to you, trust that I didn't mean YOU).

So, what of A Dance With Dragons? Well, I do not want to be the bearer of spoilers for those either A) still mired deep in the printed series or B) those unfortunate souls who have opted for the television version. I will try my best to maintain a spoiler free take on the novel but please, if you are at all worried, stop reading here.

I thought it unfair of reviewers to have been so hard on the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. As I said in my review of that installment, it wasn't warranted. Oddly enough, I might be inclined to be a little hard on the fifth novel given that match of its one thousand plus pages seemed like a never-ending build-up to nothing. I was about 70% into the novel when I realized that very little had yet happened. The proverbial dust from the previous novel settled nicely but following that it was simply a lot of characters moving about Westeros and Essos without actually doing much of anything. Fortunately the final third of the novel more than made up for the slow-pace of the first two-thirds and there were enough holy-shit moments in the last few chapters to satisfy even the most jaded fans of the series. 

There are a could of narrative specific thought I had while reading that are worth noting: 

It took five books but Martin finally managed to generate some heated interest in the story lines emanating out of Dorne. Up until A Dance With Dragons, I cringed at a Dornish chapter heading. Now, Dorne finally figured into the storyline in a more concrete and meaningful way. Now if he can just do that for anything happening in the Eyrie all bases would be covered. 

Tyrion continues to be my favorite character, though he lost a little something now that he's off his high horse. Here's to hoping for a return to form in the next installment. I also liked the inclusion (finally) of Barristan Selmy as a POV character. He's always been one of my favorites. But the one character that I want to see done as a POV is the one I fear will never be done: Varys.

I've never been a huge fan of Bran Stark's storyline but it took such a boring, pseudo-spiritual turn in this book that almost stalled out in his chapters. I know Martin is gearing up for something special with Bran but I wish he'd keep the hocus pocus to a minimum.

I'm hoping that Martin gives us a POV character from the House Martell in The Winds of Winter. Of the seven kingdoms, Highgarden is the only one that has yet to have its own POV character and I would really like to understand their motivations better. Or perhaps I'm not supposed to know.

And who the hell is Robert the Strong?

Anyway, as I said, A Dance With Dragons started out slow but those last few chapters made the entire ride so very much worthwhile. So many changes. So many questions. So much uncertainty. My only fear is that, like so many mediocre writers, Martin will end up creating such a masterful set up that he will be unable to follow through. I sincerely hope he knows where this narrative is going because other than in the most general terms, I haven't the foggiest. The rightful holder of the Iron Throne could be Stannis, Tommen, Daenerys or Moon Boy, for all I know. 

And of course, I know nothing.


Sam (Tiny Library) said...

And now the long wait begins....

George R.R. Martin wrote the latest episode of the TV show. He doesn't have time to do that, he needs to get on with the next book! :P

I'd love to see a Varys point of view too. I liked Feast for Crows better than this book, I found the Daenarys plot a bit tedious.

Brian Joseph said...

I have not read the series but I think that I would love these books. I really should make an effort to give these a go.

The Television series looks good too but I just do not have the time for that.

Man of la Book said...

My mind doesn't "get" fantasy reading, but I do love the movies.
My wife and I are hooked on the Games of Thrones TV show.


bookspersonally said...

Ah, so envious! Have only made it through the first one (also not yet seen the series). They are so long it is terribly daunting to be even a little behind, much less just barely starting - enjoy the huge accomplishment of being up-to-date!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Impressive. Quite the accomplishment. And those of us who are a bit farther back on this journey (see me way, way, way back there, waving at you?) thank you for encouraging us on.

neal call said...

I was really impressed with the first in the series, though I admit that some aspects of it kinda made me cringe and shift in my seat. After reading reviews of the follow-ups, though, I wasn't sure I wanted to slog through so many thousands of pages of less-interesting storylines to get to the ones I liked. Once he finishes the series, I'll probably revisit it, because I think he does some really unique and valuable stuff in the genre. But if he dies before finishing it, I'm not sure I could live with the unfinished plot I'd put so much sweat, blood and tears into. So I'm watching from the sidelines to see where things go.

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