Dance With Dragons
by Cosmo Houck
Warning: Here be Spoilers
I don’t know quite what to make of A Dance With Dragons. My initial impression was that it was a decided improvement upon the last book; upon reflection, however, I’m having doubts.
I had two primary problems with A Feast for Crows: the first was that it left out all of the good characters, and the second was that not a whole lot seemed to happen. However, after rereading it in preparation for Martin’s latest monstrosity I found myself appreciating the characters more. Jaime was entirely worthwhile as a POV character, with his arc imbued with a nice bit of moral development, and Cersei, despite being stunningly unlikable, provided a certain perverse satisfaction as well, especially in her spectacular failure to govern effectively. Feast may not really go anywhere, but it was at least a pretty tidy little package, and nicely filled in some characters on the periphery.
Dance, on the other hand, is anything but tidy. All of Martin’s books have been long, but this newest feels the most disjointed and sprawling to me, and by a fair margin. Daenerys has always been across the narrow sea, but as more and more characters leave Westeros the focus of the narrative leaves the houses and families that have been built up over four books and plunges the reader into entirely new worlds. I’m not sure how I feel about this; Westeros has always felt fully realized to me, and while Braavos feels pretty compelling through the eyes of Arya the rest of the free cities and slave cities offer little in the way of distinguishing features. The geography complicates this as well-Westeros has always been conveniently divided North/South East/West, whereas the reader is provided with little to make sense of this massive new world beyond that consolidated little isle. The politics of Mereen are also far less compelling than those in Westeros because we’ve spent 4000 pages with the like of Littlefinger and Varys, as opposed to several hundred with the Shavepate and Seneschal.
Most problematic to is Tyrion’s storyline. It starts off well enough, I suppose, with Daenerys perhaps the last person he can realistically turn to, and the beginning of that little quest is fine if far from our most compelling moments with his character. It begins to go wrong with Jorah Mormont randomly turning up at just the wrong moment. This simply felt contrived to me. Of all the whorehouses in all the world! And spirals from there, culminating in him riding around on a sow on the ship. This just felt entirely dissonant; while Tyrion has always been concerned with survival first, there was also a sense that he truly was a Lannister still, with all the requisite pride and backbone that goes along with the name. I don’t recall what character it was that suggested in a previous installment that Tyrion truly was his father’s son, but there was always that sense. To go from him swearing that he’d never mount that sow to jumping forward to him capitulating just struck a terribly discordant note for me. If Martin wants to do that, I’d like the sense of danger from the sailors to be more developed and more imminent.
That was my biggest problem with the book (along with the fact that not much really happens in the first 600 pages or so) but I also take issue with my favorite moment. That moment, of course, is the murder of Jon Snow. I loved how this was done. There was plenty of foreshadowing to warn the reader of the danger, but then in flies Ramsay Bolton’s letter and both the audience and Snow forget the warnings. It happens so suddenly, and pierces through so much noise, that it does manage to be a truly shocking moment. I wasn’t stunned in the way that I was with Ned, or, particularly, Rob however. This doesn’t have the same sense of finality–I cannot imagine Jon is truly dead. This is where Melisandre steps up and whips out a little Thoros-esque life bringing ability right?
If all that sounds needlessly negative, well, I suppose it is. I still loved the book though. I just wish that it had been a little tighter, and I say that with a tremendous amount of respect for how hard it must be to juggle all the characters Martin has up in the air. I’d probably rank this right alongside Feast as the weakest in the series, but even a weaker Song book is better than 95% of whats out there, as I see it. Bring on Winds of Winter.