A Dance With Dragons

George R.R. Martin's latest volume, A Dance With Dragons, was *the* most anticipated book of 2011 for me.  We all have that book, right?  The one you actually pre-ordered and counted down the days for.  The book that made you hyperventilate just a little when the cover art for it was announced.  The book that came in the mail and when you tore open the packaging, you stood there for a moment just reveling at the fact that you were actually holding it.  And the excitement when you first heard that little sigh of the spine when you gingerly opened the cover was indescribable. 

Despite my desire to chug this book down in a sitting or two, my hunger for the plot was tempered by the thousand pages of Martin's signature hefty and detailed prose that is better served chapter by chapter than in hundred page chunks.  I finished reading this one in the first week of August, and yet I've been sitting on the process of reviewing it because it is an immensely more difficult task than I first pondered.

On the one hand, I can evaluate this book as nothing more than the fifth Song of Ice and Fire book.  By that criteria, it's a solid entry in the saga.  There's perhaps a bit less action and drama than some of the previous books, but where Martin wins is in continuing to build upon his subtle style of character development.   For the first time, several major players in the drama are near to crossing paths and the tensions of how these heroes, anti-heroes and heroines are going to interact is a valuable impetus in driving the story forward.  And yet as delightful as it is to reunite with them, very little of substance actually happens in the story.  Once more a large portion of what makes this book good is the promise of what it's leading up to.

Which leads me to the second factor on which this book is inevitably being judged.  Did it deliver?  Nicknamed "Kong" on Martin's blog as the six hundred pound gorilla that hovered in the room of any project he worked on, Dance With Dragons carried with it astronomical expectations.  In terms of answering some of the lingering questions dangling in front of fans after A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows, it did.  Granted it also proposed numerous questions and cliffhangers of its own.  Story-wise this one doesn't seem to stand as solidly as the first three in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but it still manages to be compelling - perhaps more so because, after four epic books, the reader is undoubtedly invested in these characters than because of a dynamic plot. 

I suppose I loved the idea of this book more than I actually adored it as a work by George R.R. Martin.  Was it good? Yes.  Was it satisfying?  Partially.  Was it fantastic? Maybe.  I think it deserves a reread after a year or so, since I'll be better able to evaluate my true feelings on the book itself if I can distance it from my expectations for it. 

2 Response to "A Dance With Dragons"

  1. Steve says:
    August 26, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    I chugged it down in a week, due to the major life issues that were going on at the time.

    I think you're right in terms of plot action. But where it eases back on plot action, it builds up in literary prose. Everything's a lot more layered, textured, themed. It's, imo, a more ornate book than the others in the series. While I'm overwhelmingly impressed by that exceedingly high level of craft (it's really astounding) I confess that I prefer the pacing of the first three. They weren't fast-paced, but there was a greater sense of movement. On the other hand, there are two more books left, and in those books winter will come. It's kind of like Battlestar Galactica season 3. A lot of people complained that it didn't match the first two seasons; but it's the only time you get to slow down and look at the crew before the events that trigger the show's ending begin to speed toward the finish. It may be like that for Song of Ice and Fire, too, where Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons are the one place where you get to look at the characters under a microscope. I'm just guessing, of course.

  2. StephanieD says:
    August 26, 2011 at 8:10 PM

    Oh, I'm so far behind in this series! Which is just as well since it takes years between each installment. If Dance merely approaches the greatness of the first, then I am still very much looking forward to finally reaching it...someday...

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