Book Review: A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. MartinPosted: November 10, 2013
The word “epic” has tended to be overused in recent years, but it definitely implies to this book, the fifth installment of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, which has taken me about a month to read.
I was super keen to read this book because as much as I enjoyed part four, A Feast for Crows, a few of my favourite characters hadn’t appeared much in that book, and so I was keen to see what was going on. As with previous installments I was quickly engrossed in Martin’s intricate and vividly realized world. Martin’s best gift is his ability to tie together loosely connected strands and switch focus in a way that keeps the reader guessing and allows the rug to be pulled out from under them frequently.
Describing the story here would take too long, but this novel mainly focuses on the characters across the sea, including my personal favourite Tyrion Lannister AKA the Imp, who’s on the lam having killed his father and forced to adapt various disguises in his exile. Mercenaries, slavers, conspirators and fallen heroes all cross his path as his fortunes change.
There are also new characters who have travelled across the narrow sea to seek out Daenerys Targaryen, who sits uneasily on the throne of the city she freed from slavery, surrounded by treachery and uneasy alliances. Two young men seek to make her their queen and use her dragons for glory.
Other characters who crop up are Jon Snow attempting to lead the Night’s Watch, his brother Bran’s quest into the Northern wilds and their sister Arya and her bizarre role in a shady temple.
With the focus moving about it’s essentially a series of cliffhangers, with Martin leaving characters dangling until their next chapter picks up their tale. It all makes it a very hard book to put down.
His characterization work is superb, giving insight into a variety of different character’s motivations and creating a weird situation where you find yourself liking characters with entirely different goals. Here also, Martin achieves something truly astounding, generating sympathy for one of the series’ major villains and least likable characters.
I’ve loved every single one of these books, largely because unlike many fantasy works I’ve read this is grounded in the messy side of things- vicious, unromantic battles, sneaky maneuvering and human weaknesses drive the plot, and are for me as much of a draw as the dragons, sorcery and mysteries. Martin’s writing has a visceral, rough and ready to feel to it and this keeps me engrossed even if there are wince-inducing moments.
That being said, Martin is a bit of a knob, largely due to his ability to kick his readers right in the gut by treating his characters abominably. There are a couple of moments in this book where plot developments caught me completely by surprise and left me reeling. In most books you can roughly guess how things are going to go down, but Martin seems to revel in shocking his audiences and destroying characters they’ve come to love.
It’s this unpredictability which means that I find myself in a new and infuriating position. Previously when finishing one of these novels my problem was not diving head first into the next one, but I have now caught up with Martin’s writing and join the ranks of his fans who must now wait with growing frustration until part six is ready. I do hope he hurries up, as I really, really want to know what happens next.
Verdict: Martin’s series goes from strength to strength and his skill as a writer is immense. The scope and intricacy of his world is a marvel and he continues to be able to surprise his readers. A true epic and extremely engrossing read. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.