I’ve been trying to get through A Dance with Dragons for several months now, and finally finished last week. I really wanted to finish the 5th entry in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series before the next season of A Game of Thrones begins on HBO; season 4 will likely start including some things from this book as well as the 4th book (A Feast for Crows), which take place mostly concurrently. I don’t watch the show (too cheap to pay for HBO), but I can’t help overhearing some things and nobody enjoys being spoiled.
Speaking of which: SPOILERS AHEAD.
Tl;dr Great plot developments for favorite characters; unnecessarily long, 3.5/5 stars
Let’s start with the good: overall, I enjoyed this book more than the last. The best characters are back and lots of exciting things are happening to them!
- Tyrion is having all kinds of adventures all over the place. I love the introduction of Penny as his travelling companion. Tyrion is such a wonderful grey character: he’s a Lannister, he wants power, but he also has a sense of justice and compassion. His friendship with Penny requires him to keep using his heart as much as his head while he’s across the Narrow Sea.
- Jon has a big headache at the Wall: wights, wildlings, and Stannis and his women are making his life and command complicated. He makes lots of bold decisions that will move things in the right direction…if they don’t come back to bite him in the @#$. He’s still struggling to distance himself from his various emotional attachments the way he thinks he should, and this balance between love and duty is one of his character’s compelling features.
- Dany is stuck in Meereen, trying to gain valuable political experience so she can add “Queen” to her résumé. So we have less action, but lots of intrigue: marriages, murders, and plagues tend to keep interest. Her “escape” with the dragons is one of the climaxes for this book and sets us up for a possible return to action in the next book.
And that leads us to the not-so-good:
- Arya is still trying to not be Arya. She does not intersect with other main characters, and my interest in her is waning quickly.
- Quentyn Martell is a huge waste of space. I like his character well enough, it’s just that his inclusion as a narrator has problems. He has 4 chapters: enough to be distracting, but not enough to be important. His journey to seek Dany’s hand parallels young Griff’s such that it seems redundant. He does help move the plot along a little at the end by releasing the dragons, but he could easily have been replaced by some other mechanism for that.
Which leads me to the bigger issue with this book: it was a slog. I had to work to read this book. Sure, a lot of the best things in life require some effort, but I feel this could have been ameliorated with better editing.
Several times we learn information from one narrator, only to be reminded of the same information in the next chapter by another narrator. And there sometimes are huge gaps between where we leave a narrator and pick back up with him again, which is helpful for keeping the story moving, but still slightly disorienting. And I was irritated by the use of varying epithets instead of plain names at chapter headings.
Martin’s prose is enjoyable to read, and I always enjoy his little details about what people ate for dinner, etc. I certainly appreciate the complexity of his characters and plot-lines. But distilling the story down just a bit would go a long way for readability.