Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“A Dance With Dragons” – GRRM’s Most Merciless Tale Yet

Let me start by saying this is a first rate novel. At times, I found myself lost within its pages, feeling the story’s suspense and tension in my very bones. It is better than A Feast For Crows and probably on par with A Clash Of Kings. But it is easily George R.R. Martin’s most merciless tale in the series. Imagine A Storm Of Swords ending right after the Red Wedding. Just merciless.

A Dance With Dragons is the fraternal twin of A Feast For Crows. Originally, Martin intended them to be a single book, but after it grew two long, he broke it in two. He separated the storylines geographically, so the two books were supposed to take place at the same time. But that is only true for about half of A Dance With Dragons. Past the midpoint, the novels’ timelines converge and several of the stories started in A Feast For Crows continue in A Dance With Dragons. As a result, we have several chapters from the viewpoint of characters like Cersei and Victarion Greyjoy, who were major players in A Feast For Crows. There’s also scenes from Jaimie’s and Arya’s points-of-view, but none from Sansa’s or Sam’s.

The main characters in A Dance With Dragons are all the fan favorites who were left out of A Feast For Crows: Daenerys, Jon Snow, Bran Stark, and Tyrion Lannister. The book also features a myriad of scenes from other characters’ viewpoints, including Theon Greyjoy, his sister Asha, Lady Melisandre, Barristan Selmy, Davos Seaworth, two princes of Dorne, an exiled knight who served as Hand to the last Targaryan king, and Kevan Lannister. It’s a thick character soup, but somehow it all works.

This novel includes more scenes set across the Narrow Sea and around Slavers’ Bay than any of the prior novels. Many storylines are leading toward Daenerys and her dragons, and it’s in these scenes that the book is at its best. In fact if this novel only concerned Daenerys’ storyline, it would be a worthy read. Dany shows her naiveté in this one, revealing she’s still a young girl and not quite ready to play the game of thrones. As the title suggests, her dragons play a significant role, and the scenes involving them are among my favorites. Ser Barristan Selmy also takes on a leading role. He’s one of the few true heroes left in the story, wise and brave and noble like Ned Stark. We’ve needed a replacement for Ned for a while now, and Selmy is it. Of course, this means he’ll probably meet a tragic death in The Winds Of Winter. C’est la via.

The bulk of the remaining action takes place in the North, where Ramsey Bolton has become the book’s biggest monster since Prince Joffrey. (Actually, Bolton is worse. Much worse.) He and his father have their eyes on Winterfell, which Ramsey hopes to secure through a marriage with a girl he believes to be Arya Stark. Meanwhile, up at The Wall, Jon Snow is dealing with Mance Raider and all the Wildlings who surrendered at the end of A Storm of Swords. He also has to deal with the presence of Stannis Baratheon and his red priestess Melisandre, whose prophecies are starting to play a major role in these books. Beyond The Wall, Bran continues to search for the three-eyed crow, and while his story arc makes long strides, it’s unclear where Martin is going with this character.

By the end, the lives of nearly every character the reader cares about are far worse off than when the book begins. Pick your wedding, Red or Purple, and you’ll get the picture. Also, there are no storylines resolved in this book. Nearly every main character’s tale ends in some form of cliffhanger. So now, we must wait until The Winds Of Winter to learn what might emerge from the chaos that is the end of A Dance With Dragons.

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