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Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

By / August 15, 2011 / no comments

The most recent release in Martin’s seven book long series A Dance with Dragons is what turns out to essentially be the missing pieces from A Feast for Crows. Where the first book covered the lives of key characters in King’s Landing and Westeros, A Dance with Dragons is the story of the characters in the cold North and the Nine Free Cities: in this instalment we follow Jon Snow, Davos Seaworth, the Ironmen who hold castles in the North as well as the Dragon Queen Daenerys Targaryen and the exiled kinslayer Tyrion Lannister.

Again, as with the previous couple of books new characters are given their own point of view chapters through which to tell their stories, and as with the previous couple of books some of these chapters are far weaker than the others.

Still the strongest stories lie in the North and the main battle behind the walls of King’s Landing – although you are treated to scarcely any of the latter in this book – whilst others, including the newly introduced character of Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, seem to add little to the plot as a whole and can on occasion seem solely to exist to force the reader to wait a few pages before they are able to read more of their favourite characters. If this was a ploy to further tension however it fails massively and rather leaves you frustrated and distracted so that once you return to the key stories at hand you have forgotten certain features.

As far as the plot goes, A Dance with Dragons is a simple continuation of what has gone on before hand. Jon Snow is still Commander of the Night’s Watch, who have now been relieved of their guest King Stannis, yet his Queen and priestess still remain. Both of whom have a massive impact upon the story, helping to add to the constant vein of friction and tension that flow behind the Wall.

Upon reflection this book is the fulfilment of several prophecies and sees the beginning of several characters’ ascension into maturity and completion. Like Jon, Daenerys is exactly the same place she was at the end of the last book, yet by the close of A Dance with Dragons she has taken a huge step toward becoming the Queen she has always promised, and threatened, to be. Whilst the re-emergence of Arya Stark allows the reader to see a definite progression in her character’s story line, which also allows the reader to slip into the impotent magic and mysticism of the Stark family. Having always been a favourite character of mine Arya’s is a welcome return to the book’s original protagonists and mysteries.

What becomes the biggest disappoint in the book is most likely fully intentional on Martin’s side; the tiny encounter with Brandon Stark as he meets the “three-eyed crow” and learns to use the gift his family all appear to be blessed with leave you hungry for more of the boy’s story. Yet the mentions of Bran are sparse at best and I imagine Martin did this to keep the mystery and tension behind the strangest and most magical aspect of the story. Yet somehow you simply feel cheated and confused, this aspect of the story holds such promise and intrigue but Martin appears to be holding off on revealing the secrets of Bran’s adventure. As of yet we still do not know who their dead guide was, although I have my own suspicions; we are granted a taste of what the faces of the Old Gods see through the great weir wood trees, but nothing of particular interest is revealed through their eyes.

Far be it for me to predict the direction of Martin’s epic fantasy tale, as I am sure the more insignificant stories will add vital details to the finale, however at the moment they seem only to kill time between points of interest or intrigue.

In other ways some of the best revelations of the series crop up in this book, things that will leave you agog and desperate to read on. The briefest mention of Rickon Stark is tantalizingly intriguing, whilst the secret identities of a singer and a murderer are revealed to us, although upon reflection I found myself thinking how blindingly obvious it must have been to the more astute reader.

As with the other four books of course the story and characters are written very well, the key characters in particular become very familiar and believable and of course the book is an essential read to complete the series, however it is far from the best of the group. Not to say that it is the weakest, that right is reserved for its predecessor A Feast for Crows, but if A Dance with Dragons is a sign of what is yet to come from Martin is suggests that he may not finish as well as he began when he wrote A Game of Thrones.

One can hold out some hope however as in A Dance with Dragons Martin displays a deft ability to pull the threads of several stories together and weave them into a brilliant conclusion. Whilst toward the end of the book you find yourself back in the familiar arms of Martin’s tense and intriguing fantasy drama. It is a strange sensation as you go from waiting for the story to kick in to suddenly being completely enthralled, and then just as suddenly the book is finished and you find yourself, as is Martin’s wont, wide eyed and opened mouthed at the cliff-hangers left to you.

Even the epilogue, which is told through the eyes of Kevan Lannister, is full of shock and intrigue and will leave you desperate for the next instalment in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

With all the book’s faults the re-introduction of characters such as Arya Stark and the brief appearances of Bran along with the brilliant chapters involving Jon Snow and Melisande make the book worth reading in the end. Despite all its faults, the predictable and uneventful chapters of Asha Greyjoy and the notable absence of Sansa Stark – whose story was finally beginning to get interesting – A Dance with Dragons is full of promise and raises expectations for the final two books.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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