|Spanish cover of A Dance with Dragons|
In the aftermath of a colossal battle, Daenerys Targaryen rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way east—with new allies who may not be the ragtag band they seem. And in the frozen north, Jon Snow confronts creatures from beyond the Wall of ice and stone, and powerful foes from within the Night’s Watch. In a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics lead a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, to the greatest dance of all.
The fifth installment of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASoIaF from now on) has been a big disappointment. It is obvious from my periodical status updates that reading this was a chore, and I'm grumpy because I'm spending more time talking about it now. However, I feel I should explain why I disliked this so much given the overall high ratings it has received.
A Dance with Dragons (ADwD) is the second part of sorts of A Feast for Crows (AFfC). Together, they are a bridge novel between two plot-filled books. By definition, there can't be big things here, and we won't get resolution on any of the bigger issues (the Others and Dany conquering Westeros, namely). However slower, one would expect a certain amount of plot or character development to happen between these pages. But it wasn't the case with A Feast for Crows, and it's even more patent in this latest novel.
ADwD is terribly long, at 1125 pages. If we add the 976 pages of AFfC, we get 2101 pages of giving characters enough time to get where they must. I've read shorter sagas. Unfortunately, half of those pages could have been cut short, since they don't serve to advance the plot or do character development. What do they contain, I hear you ask? Repetitions of token sentences, repetitions of events from different points of view, recapitulations of the disgraces fallen upon every character, useless points of view (Jaime? Quentyn? Asha?), long lists of feasts, long lists of Houses, long lists of heraldry, and sad attempts at cliffhangers. Oh, and pissing, shitting, and fucking. Apparently, grim and realistic now really means detailed about bodily functions. I miss the older novels, when it meant avoiding relying on magic and other epic fantasy clichés, and reflecting the most disturbing aspects of medieval times. This book is long-winded.
Aside from uninteresting trivia, we are graced with long stretches of Westeros and Essos sociopolitical history, presented in the way I hate the most: by a character who randomly decides to give a speech on something completely unrelated to what is happening right then. Martin infodumps us at every turn, mainly through Tyrion no less, who used to be one of the most interesting characters. On top of that, I think that the fifth book of a long-running epic fantasy series is really not the time for world building. It feels jarring.
Of course, Martin had to do something while he embarked almost every character on an Interminable Journey (the rest were on Hero's Journey, Learning about Themselves and/or Magic and Magical Creatures in order to Be a Hero in the future). And they actually were interminable, since not even one single character arrives at their destination. (By the way, that means that the start of book six will have people traveling, once again. Why does Martin hate his fans so much?) This novel is becoming more clichéd than it used to be. Since the engrossing shenanigangs aren't here, the plot devices are much more noticeable. Sadly, Martin's prose is not good enough to cover them.
You know what else he needed to keep the reader's attention while the main characters were on their way to fulfilling their destiny? Why, more characters of course. And new subplots who have zilch to do with anything else happening on this world. For example, a new claim to the Iron Throne. Or a silly prince with his own self-contained story. Or a chapter by every minor character, ever. One of the greatest assets of ASoIaF, the multiple POVs, has turned into its greatest danger - a disjointed, fragmentary narrative which is, plain and simply, boring. It feels like filler. Epic fantasy should never be boring. And our dear old characters, like Dany, Cersei or Tyrion? So out of character it hurts. AFfC was said to be the worst book on ASoIaF to date, since it featured the less exciting POVs. That meant building a certain amount of anticipation for ADwD, an anticipation that wasn't rewarded with the corresponding exciting subplots.
Why is this book necessary? I don't know. Either the story is out of control or Martin feels like cashing on his fans' loyalty. Or maybe he was this kind of writer all along and just had a great editor. I am sad to see ASoIaF in this dark place, but I've invested too much time on these characters to abandon them mid-series. I'll still be reading The Winds of Winter when it comes out. At this point, I'm just trusting the HBO writers to do it better.
Others said it better: Marie Brennan's review, Marie Brennan on long fantasy series (a five-star post, worth reading even if it isn't directly about ASoIaF), Shara's review, Lianne's review.
Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!