It took me over a week to finish A Dance With Dragons – the fifth instalment in A Song of Ice and Fire and the latest available (thus far). Having had mixed experiences with the first four books, I was actually really into it by now. Not having seen half of the cast since the end of A Storm of Swords, I was itching to find out what happened to Dany, Tyrion, Jon, etc in the time that we saw passing during A Feast for Crows.
I mentioned this in my Feast review, but it’s worth reiterating. I really feel like the geographical split of the story between Feast and Dance was a rubbish decision editorially. Not only that, although I knew that Dance carries on past the endpoint of Feast, I was pretty gutted to realise that it doesn’t carry on particularly far, and several characters that I had actually grown to like during Feast (much to my surprise in the case of a certain highborn maid of three-and-ten) made no reappearance in ‘After the Feast’, the second half of A Dance With Dragons. It’s now been twelve years since the publication of A Feast for Crows, and damnit, I want to know what’s going on with that highborn maid of three-and-ten!
In any case. Besides that complaint!
In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance—beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House 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. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.
Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys’s claim to Westeros forever.
Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone—a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.
From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.
I did actually quite enjoy this book. A return to lots of my favourite characters (okay, let’s be real, Tyrion and Jon) was welcomed, after their absence from A Feast for Crows, and the twisting, turning plot becomes ever more complicated and intertwined as yet more new characters are introduced, and others are brutally killed.
It’s a very strange thing to read a book which has seeped into the collective cultural consciousness in such a way as A Song of Ice and Fire has, but so much later than it was published. Six years after A Dance with Dragons came out first, and with the TV series having overtaken the books, there was plenty that I was expecting to happen in this book that actually… didn’t. Turns out I was absorbing information from the TV show, rather than the books.
There is a lot happening in this book. Over a thousand pages of words. And yet, as repeated so often in the book itself, words are wind. Despite the lengthy tome, it feels like for a lot of the cast, nothing happens other than continuing on to get to where they’re going. But they haven’t arrived yet. I realise that as the fifth of seven books, there is clearly still a lot of setting up to be done for dénouement of the story, and of course, with such a sprawling and unwieldy array of POV characters, it’s going to take a long time for everyone to have their say, but seriously, there is both too much and really not enough going on here.
But actually, I was mostly able to let Martin away with it. The sprawling, dynastic legacy of the game of thrones, the battle for the iron throne, the actions of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, I was definitely on board with almost all of it. The expansion of the world as we see travelers making their way to their various destinations (most of them seeking Danaerys and her dragons) gave us new insights into parts of the world that we hadn’t seen before, and new horrendous things to contemplate, such as feeding unsuspecting mummers to lions.
Some characters, I wanted to be eaten by lions, in fairness. Ramsay, on the basis that he’s a twisted and terrifying personification of evil, and Penny, for how unceasingly dull she is, but those were minor diversions. Plus, everyone needs someone to hate, right?
Overall, I was left looking for more adventures in Westeros, which I suppose is probably what Martin wants when writing these. I’m pretty disappointed that I’ve now run out of published ASoIaF books, but there are still the Dunk and Egg novellas, and I could try reading The World of Ice and Fire, although that seems a little like a ponderous encyclopaedia of information dumping, so I don’t know if I’ll be all that tempted to try it.
In any case, I am indeed now one of those waiting for the publication of The Winds of Winter. Last week marked the point at which the gap between the publication of Feast and Dance was outstripped by the gap between Dance and Winds, and there’s no sign of publication any time soon, so I’m not holding my breath. At least I have the TV show to keep me going, and its divergence from the books to ensure that I won’t be spoilered out of all enjoyment of the final two ASoIaF books.