A (very slow) Dance with Dragons

October 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm (george r.r. martin, Literature, song of ice and fire)

Finally, I got to read “A Dance with Dragons”, the latest installment in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”-series. Instead of buying the book, I borrowed it from a friend – the same friend, btw, who introduced me to the series and thus made me an addict – thanks a lot, Claudia *g* The main reason I didn’t buy the book straight away – though I really wanted to – was this: I own the previous volumes only in paperback, and I’m nerdy enough to think that a hardcover would just look stupid besides four paperbacks.

Anyway. I finished ADWD yesterday and what can I say – it’s in parts pretty disappointing. Not as disappointing as “Under Heaven”, mind you, but very close to it. Ok – among the disappoiniting books I read this year, it’s behind “Under Heaven” and “The Dark Tower”, but still… maybe my expectations were too high after having read the previous books and I must confess that I don’t know what I expected. A bit more story, not just stagnation and a very, very slow pace – this book is even slower than “A Feast for Crows” which I actually liked a lot (hey, it had lots of Jaime-POVs *g*).  There are several reasons for this and I’ll try to explain them as best as I can. Before I do that, let me start on the positive aspects of this book. But beware, there are some SPOILERS so if you haven’t read the book yet you’d best stop reading. If you decide to continue – well, I warned you.

1. Tyrion is back. Yay! He’s by far my favourite character in the series; love his wit and cunning.

2. The POVs featuring Reek/Theon are awesome. I really hated the guy when he decided to betray the Starks in an earlier volume and I couldn’t wait to see him suffer. Alas – GRRM has managed to write his POVs in a way that I actually pitied the poor guy. Sure – he’s a turncloak and all, but no one should suffer what he endured at the hands of Ramsay Bolton – by far the most evil character I’ve encountered yet, at least as far as ASoIaF is concerned.

3. Jaime’s back for one chapter. Yay! I actually let out a whoop of joy when I turned a page and saw that the next chapter would be featuring Jaime. His POV could have been included in Feast, to be sure, or moved to the next volume, but it was nice to see how he was faring and that he’s obviously moving towards some kind of redemption after all the cruel things he has done in the past.

4. Cersei’s back. Yay! As with Jaime, her POVs could have been included in either Feast or the next installment but it was awesome to see how she basically got what she deserved. Yes, she’s evil and crazy but I like her a lot – and I pitied her when she had to walk through King’s Landing naked. Very humiliating. I think she’ll survive that, though. We’ll see how the trial goes.

5. Dany’s back. Yay!

6. The dragons mature and kill off one of the most annoying and boring characters in the book. Yay again!

7. There are some storylines that will be crucial for the next installment. Essentially, I think GRRM has all his characters where he wants them to be – not that I totally agree with his decisions, but as long as he doesn’t screw it up in the last two or three books, I’m fine with it.

8. Superb writing, as ever, but a bit too focused on detail for my taste. But that’s complaining on a very high level.

9. Arya’s back. Yay! Loved how she solved her first assignment as an assassin – that was just brilliant!

10. Bran’s storyline is awesome. I just wish there would have been more of it, and despite other people claiming the magic introduced in Bran’s storyline is weird and strange, I found it enthralling.

11. Melisandre’s POV. We get to know how the Red Priestess ticks – all of a sudden, she doesn’t seem that evil anymore.

Reading this list, you might think that I really liked the book, and that’s true – but only partially. There were chapters that dragged on forever and ever and ever… the dance proved to be a very slow one, and some severe editing would have helped a great deal because a lot of chapters were just plain boring.  I’ll try to explain that.

1. Tyrion. As much as I love him, his POVs were exceedingly dull and boring as the book moved along. I am sick and tired of travelouges, i.e. characters travelling around without ever reaching their goal. GRRM did the same to Arya but in her case, there was a point – without her travelling and suffering, she wouldn’t be where she is now, i.e. training to become a faceless man. With Tyrion, I just don’t see the point. He’s travelling for at least 3 or 4 chapters or more, his goal being to reach Dany to team up with her to destroy his siblings. I would have LOVED to see Dany’s reaction to a Lannister marching into her palace/pyramid and proposing to destroy the remaining Lannisters. Alas, it doesn’t happen – not yet. Instead, we get endless POVs feat. Tyrion in which he muses on turtles (argh), becomes enslaved, befriends another dwarf and obsesses about his first wife, Tysha resp. keeps wondering where whores go. Give me a break. He’s a great character and he just doesn’t deserve THIS. Readers of ASoIaF know that he can wriggle out of every situation, complicated and dangerous as it might be so there’s simply no point having him enslaved and showing us how he escapes slavery. We KNEW he could do it, right?

2. Jon Snow. I never really liked the guy but at least his previous POVs showed some development. They were action-packed. In ADWD, we get Jon sitting upon the wall trying to be a good Lord Commander while Mormont’s raven keeps croaking “Crow” or “Snow”. Really – how can ANYBODY concentrate on the tasks ahead if that annoying raven keeps croaking in his ear? Jon’s storyline could have cut down by half, at least. There are events that matter, to be sure. But I don’t need 10 pages of describing how 3000+ wildlings are being transferred from one side of the Wall to the other. Boooooring. Also, he’s still whining way too much – “Oh no, I’m baseborn, I need to prove myself, I need to save my remaining siblings but I can’t because I’ve spoken the words”. The only thing I liked about Jon’s POVs: He decided to man the remaining castles along the Wall with wildlings because he knew he’d need them to defend the realm. And when Ramsay’s letter arrived, he made a decision that probably cost him his life.

3. Quentyn Martell. Give me a break. The most boring character ever and the most pointless character ever. He’s awarded four POVs and – SPOILER ALERT – is being toasted by one of Dany’s dragons in the end. Utterly pointless – unless his death provokes a reaction from Dorne that no one can foresee. My guess is that his father will be mad with grief and that he’ll blame Quentyn’s death on Dany, even though she wasn’t around when Quentyn figured he could a) steal and b) tame a dragon. Stupid boy.

4. Dany obsessing over Daario. Honestly. The guy is a slimeball. I can understand that GRRM wanted to show how Dany is still a teenage girl, falling in love again after Drogo, but it was way too much. Also, the badass Dany from Feast is gone. She’s trying to rule a city that can’t be ruled. She marries a man who promises to restore peace instead of forging a strong alliance with Dorne by marrying dull Quentyn Martell. Since Quentyn is dead, the blame will be on her, so there’ll be no chance to forge that alliance anymore. What really annoyed me, though, was the last Dany POV. She’s flown away with Drogon, one of her dragons, and tries to get back to Meereen but she ends up in the Dothraki sea, sick, hungry and basically where she started. I expected more progress there – mind you, she doesn’t have to invade Westeros with her dragons, but having her start from scratch isn’t very nice.

5. Too much detail. I really don’t care if Ser Barristan scrubs himself clean, dons his smallclothes, trousers, shirt and armour before confronting Hizdahr. And I don’t care about a characater’s breakfast. I don’t care about the turtles. Too much, really.

6. Annoying use of phrases and words. I hated Ygritte’s “You  know nothing, Jon Snow” from the start – why, oh why did GRRM think it’d be a good idea to include it in bascially every thought Jon has? Also very popular with GRRM: “must needs” – I’m not sure if this is even proper English. Characters keep saying “Would that we had yadayadayada”. They are “leal”, there’s “suet”, and one of the most over-used phrases ever: “Dark wings, dark words”. Yeah, I get it.

Overall, ADWD was partially a disappointment. I know that there are people out there who have a different opinion and will rate this book very highly on Amazon. Fine. For me, there just wasn’t enough progress, storywise. It’s a very slow book, and it’s a very long book. It took me about a month to read, and at some point – I think around page 700+ – I really considered putting the book down because I was so bored. But maybe it’s just me. However, I have not given up on the series – I’ll definitely read the next installement (if it’s being released in my lifetime *g*) and keep hoping that by then GRRM will be back to his former brilliance.

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