Wednesday, 18 March 2015

'A Dance with Dragons' by George R.R. Martin (2011)

Synopsis: A Dance with Dragons is the fifth book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. In the North, Stannis Baratheon has based himself at the Wall and is now attempting to win the support of the northmen in his claim for the Iron Throne by ridding the region of House Bolton and the Iron Islanders. Stannis sends his Hand, Ser Davos Seaworth, to negotiate with House Manderly of White Harbour on his behalf. Jon Snow has been elected the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and is now attempting to enlist Wildlings into the Watch. He is also having to deal with unrest within the Watch and Stannis's attempts to use their resources in his war for the Iron Throne. Bran Stark, his servant Hodor, and the Reed siblings have gone beyond the Wall and are in search of the Three-Eyed Crow from Bran's visions. They are receiving aid from a mysterious figure called Coldhands. Bran then encounters the last surviving Children of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Crow, who then begins to teach Bran the "greensight". Theon Greyjoy has been held captive by Ramsay Bolton and has been tortured to the point of insanity. Ramsay then decides to use Theon as a means of defeating the Iron Islanders. Tyrion Lannister has escaped from King's Landing and has been smuggled across the Narrow Sea to the city of Pentos. He meets Varys's ally Illyrio Mopatis who then sends Tyrion out on a journey to the city of Volantis, as Illyrio expects that this will be Daenerys Targaryen's next destination. But along the way Tyrion is kidnapped by Ser Jorah Mormont and is then sold into slavery. Another person who is hoping to find Daenerys Targaryen is Quentyn Martell. In Dorne, Prince Doran is plotting revenge on the Lannisters and has sent his son Quentyn out on a secret mission. Quentyn's task is to bring Daenerys and her dragons to Dorne. Finally, Daenerys Targaryen is now the Queen of Meereen but is struggling to maintain peace in the city. She has many enemies both within and outside of the city, her dragons are growing wilder, and the Meerenese nobility are putting pressure on her to marry.

Like a lot of people, I was introduced to the world of Westeros through the HBO show Game of Thrones and then I started to read the books that the show was based on. The first three books of the A Song of Ice and Fire are great, especially the books A Game of Thrones and A Storm of Swords. There's a ton of suspense and drama, the writing is atmospheric and engaging, there are some very memorable characters, and Westeros is a complex and interesting world. But I found the fourth book in the series A Feast for Crows underwhelming. Many of my favourite characters were missing and the writing was much more slow-paced than in the previous books. I enjoyed the Cersei, Jaime and Sansa chapters in that book but I found everyone else's chapters downright dreary. I was pretty confident that A Dance with Dragons would be an improvement on A Feast for Crows though so I didn't feel too concerned about the state of the series. Now that I've finished A Dance with Dragons I realise that I was completely wrong and I don't think I'll be reading the ASoIaF series any more. *sighs*

Before I start to complain about the things that wound me up about A Dance with Dragons I should say that there were times when I genuinely enjoyed it. Jon Snow's chapters are excellent in this book. His storyline was by far my favourite and if it hadn't been for his chapters I would have probably given up on the book about halfway through. Jon gets some terrific character development in ADWD and becomes an absolute badass. The scene where he beheads Janos Slynt is ridiculously awesome! :D And Jon shows so much potential as a leader in his chapters too. He's got great ideas, he's commanding and decisive, he has vision and foresight, he's got administrative skills, and he has self-confidence. Okay so he was attacked by some of his own men but that was only because those men were too stupid and narrow-minded to see the sense in Jon's plans. Jon is by far my favourite character in the series now and I loved almost all of his chapters in this book apart from that final one where he got stabbed. Come on now Martin, do you really expect us to believe that Jon could actually be dead??? Couldn't you have come up with a better cliffhanger than that??? I think almost every ASoIaF fan believes that "R + L = J" now and even Sean Bean has pretty much confirmed it. I think we all know that Jon's story is far from over!

After Jon my favourite POV chapters in ADWD came from Davos and Bran but sadly they didn't actually get very much page-time. Up until now I haven't been much of a fan of Davos so I was shocked at how much I enjoyed his two chapters in this book! I loved Davos's interactions with Wyman Manderley and now he's going off on a quest to find Rickon Stark. Rickon's been barely mentioned since A Clash of Kings and it should be pretty interesting to find out what he's been doing for all this time. And I really enjoyed Bran's chapters because they were full of tension and atmosphere and I really felt the presence of the Others. We get quite a bit of information about the Children of the Forest, the Weirwoods and the greensight in his chapters and I loved the scenes where Bran warged and saw glimpses of Ned. I'm really hoping that Game of Thrones will eventually bring Sean Bean back to do some flashback scenes!

And now for everything else in this book. Well, I don't think I have the words to describe how painfully, painfully boring Dany and Tyrion's chapters were! They were just... awful! And Dany and Tyrion used to be two of my favourite characters! Dany's storyline was the more frustrating out of the two. I used to think that Dany didn't really mean her "I'm only a young girl and know little about the ways of war and politics" speeches and that they were lies to get her enemies to underestimate her. Now I've finished ADwD I think Dany actually meant them! Her chapters in this book were infuriating and have firmly convinced me that she's very far from being the best person to rule over Westeros. Dany doesn't do anything useful or productive in her time in Meereen. She's passive and indecisive and we get pages and pages and pages of her whining about the city and lusting after Daario Naharis. She acts just like an immature teenage girl! And yes, I know that Dany is a lot younger in the books than she is in Game of Thrones but Jon Snow is still a teenager in the books as well and he shows far more leadership qualities than Dany does! Unlike Jon, Dany just comes across as a naive and incompetent fool. I think it's pretty clear that she's in desperate need of Tyrion showing up and telling her what to do. That brings me to Tyrion who is a very different character in this book than in the previous books of the ASoIaF. In the previous books Tyrion is funny and charming but in ADwD all of this charm and humour has practically gone and he's a much darker character. I suppose that's kind of understandable considering everything that Tyrion went through in A Storm of Swords but I still think it's a shame. Having said that I did find Tyrion's early chapters quite interesting but then he got sold into slavery and his chapters became a mind-numbing snoozefest.

Some other things that bothered me about this book were that...
  • the chapters spent on Quentyn Martell were completely unnecessary. In the end Quentyn's sole contribution to the story was to set Dany's dragons loose on Meereen and die - so why did he get so many chapters?! It would have made far more sense if he had just shown up at the very end and then released Dany's dragons. The chapter could have been told from Ser Barristan Selmy's POV.
  • nothing remotely interesting happened in the one Jaime chapter until literally the final page.
  • the one Dorne chapter was actually pretty good but it was quite jarring and would have felt more natural in A Feast for Crows or The Winds of Winter.
  • the two Cersei chapters were compelling but, again, the chapters would have felt more natural in A Feast for Crows or The Winds of Winter.
  • I really missed Sansa and Littlefinger - but if Sansa had gotten POV chapters in this book then I suppose that they could have felt jarring as well.
  • I can't really comment on the Greyjoy chapters in this book because I skim-read/skipped them all. The Asha and Victarion Greyjoy chapters bored me beyond belief in A Feast for Crows so there was no way that I was going to read them in any kind of depth in this book, and the few parts of the Theon Greyjoy chapters that I read in ADwD made me feel ill. They were far too brutal and violent for my liking. 
  • So Prince Aegon Targaryen has been alive for all this time?! What??? If Young Griff really is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell then that makes him an extremely important character and it's far too late in the series to be introducing such an important character and plot development now!

Apparently, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons were originally supposed to be one book and I think that's what we should have ended up with. With some self-control from George R.R. Martin, plus some skilled editing, I think AFFC and ADWD could have been easily combined into one novel. That book would have been the longest in the series and possibly the weakest but nevertheless it would have been a far more readable experience. There's some genuinely great stuff in both AFFC and ADWD but there are too many unnecessary POV characters and the pacing is far too slow. The story has barely moved since A Storm of Swords.

I still care about the fates of some of the characters in the series (e.g. Jon and Sansa) and I do want to know how the series will end. Who'll end up on the Iron Throne? Who's Azor Ahai? Who are the three heads of the dragon? How will the Others be defeated? Who's Cersei's valonqar? And yet the thought of reading two more massive books of tedium is filling me with absolute dread so I'll probably just stick with Game of Thrones from now on. It's becoming increasingly likely that the TV show will end before Martin will finish his books anyway. I think Martin might just about manage to get The Winds of Winter out before season six but it's going to take a miracle if he manages to get A Dream of Spring out before the end of the show.

Rating: 2/5


Lianne @ said...

Great review Hannah! Your thoughts are similar to mine re: this book: I enjoyed Jon and Bran's chapters the most (and Davos, I think, but I don't remember what happened in his side of the story), I missed other characters (Jaime, Cersei, Sansa), Tyrion and Dany's chapters bored me to tears (this book solidified my opinion that Dany should not win the Iron Throne at the end TBH). The new characters and storylines made the already-complex storyline even more complex, it was unsatisfying at the end, not to mention it left me wondering if the series will indeed finish with seven books. And I totally hear you about the plot not really moving forward since ASOS! I'll still be reading the next books when they come out but I hope the pacing improves considerably and that some (unnecessary) storylines are wrapped up.

Hannah said...

Thank you! Since writing this review I've moderated my stance on continuing the series. I've decided that if The Winds of Winter comes out before Game of Thrones season 6 that I'll definitely read it but only so I can avoid any spoilers before the TV show.

I can't get over how incompetent Dany was in this book but I still have this nagging feeling that she'll end up on the Iron Throne at the end :( I want it to be Jon Snow with Tyrion as his Hand!

I'm glad to come across another Bran fan! I really enjoy his chapters but no-one seems to like him very much!