Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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36 Responses

  1. Avatar Ryan B says:

    This matches my thoughts.

    It’s really a shame, given how relatively tight the narrative in Game of Thrones was, that we’ve reached this point. I wish he had stuck to his original plan of introducing no new POVs after the first book. Or at least tried to stick to it.Report

  2. Avatar Ryan B says:

    I actually hate Quentyn’s chapters less than other people seem to. He is a rather obvious deconstruction of the traditional hero role, but it still seems to work. In other stories, he would be handsome and daring and bold, and he’d show up, sweep the princess of her feet, and slay all the evildoers. Instead, though, we get a guy who isn’t even better looking than his friends, who is basically useless in a fight, who is too late to accomplish anything, and who dies in a terribly non-heroic fashion. Remember, he doesn’t even get the dignity of dying on-screen. Again, it’s a pretty simple/obvious thing, but it’s still pretty effective. It’s hard not to feel horrible for him.

    That, of course, means he elicited more emotion from me than Dany, at the very least.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Ryan B says:

      In another book maybe. But it seems silly to only have him around for one book also. Deconstruct the hero, but do it over a longer period of time. Make his death mean something more than it did. Don’t bury it under the weight of so much…blah.Report

  3. Avatar carr1on says:

    I’m glad I read your review. I was starting to think I was the only person who was truly disappointed in ADWD. So disappointed, that I haven’t read anything else for a week, which is very unlike me. I’m kind of in a funk after being so let down from high expectations.

    I totally agree on the Dany chapters: useless, boring, and did little to forward the plot.
    Tyrion: ditto.
    Mereen: burn the mother down!

    Only the North chapters were good.

    How many years will we have to wait for the next installment?Report

  4. Avatar Maxwell James says:

    I actually liked the book considerably more than you did – largely on the strength of the Tyrion chapters, which I found eventful enough, and did the right things by his character even though they may not have advanced the overall plot very much.

    That said, after pondering yours and Rosenberg’s review as well as those of other writers I respect, I think this kind of feedback is what Martin really needs to hear right now (and isn’t, thanks to all the one-note critical praise). The series is becoming dangerously overloaded with characters, settings, and backstory. It reminds me of nothing so much as the titular novel in Michael Chabon’s “Wonder Boys,” a marvelous but over-padded mess that it’s author cannot bring himself to finish. I hope ASOIAF does not meet a similar fate.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Maxwell James says:

      Martin’s said this himself, though (and says that the next book will gather all the disparate threads). And he doesn’t count DwD as the best book in the series (THANK GOD!). he thinks it’s better than CoK, which many will not.

      This is the ending of the slow portion of the symphony. A master will make the last bit exhilirating.Report

  5. Avatar North says:

    Perhaps it was because I had to wait so long but I enjoyed the length of the book. It felt meaty even if I often was rolling my eyes at Daeny.Report

  6. Avatar James K says:

    I enjoyed Dance with Dragons more than you did, for one thing I enjoyed the Tyrion chapters – they were a first foray into linking the action in Westeros to Danaerys, which gave the impression of pushing the story toward resolution. Plus it gave me an opportunity to see Tyrion’s resourcefulness at work in a way we haven’t seen since Clash of Kings – with his title and money gone the only tool he has left is his wits.

    I share your opinion of the Wall – it was good to see Jon get to work. As for the final chapter – I suspect its a fake-out, you’re right that killing Snow would accomplish nothing and make a lot of the story utterly pointless. Snow’s critical mistake of course was to send everyone he trusted away, leaving him surrounded by people who would stab him in the back under the right circumstances.

    As for Mereen – I agree with that it seemed pointless. I don’t know if you read Martin’s “Not a Blog”, but it would seem from his comments there that Mereen is the main reason this book took 5 years to write.

    I think that Martin had to wait for a book to get her plot moving to ensure her return to Westeros happens at the right time. But I think A song of Ice and Fire is her story first and foremost (I believe she is Azor Ahai reborn, not Jon), and Martin didn’t think he could just part the main character of his story for so long without giving her something to do. Either that, or Mereeen is supposed to teach her some kind of lesson. In any case I think we’ll see her leaving Mereen for Asshai under the Shadow in the next book.

    Still the whole Quentin subplot seemed fairly pointless. I can only assume it was originally meant to be important to the story, but Martin’s redrafting of book 5 removed the need for Quentyn, so he had to get rid of him.

    Overall I still like the book, despite the East. But I got the impression we might see some movement in the East next book, so I think thins should get better from here on out.Report

    • Avatar Ryan B in reply to James K says:

      I’m not sure why so many people are still debating this Azor Ahai business. Martin states all but explicitly in ADWD that Jon is Azor Ahai.

      Melisandre: “Show me Azor Ahai.”
      Fire: “Here, look at Jon Snow.”
      Melisandre: “Why won’t it show me Stannis?! Also, have I mentioned in the last three seconds that, even though I’m sometimes wrong, the fire never is?”Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I just skimmed this, since I have 700-odd pages to go before I can risk spoilers, but I had a similar feeling about A Feast for Crows. The Arya, Sansa, and Iron Isles chapters were excellent, The Sam and Jaime stuff good but overly drawn out, the Dorne stuff nicely exotic but a bit extraneous, and the Brienne chapters a complete waste of time.Report

  8. Avatar Michael says:

    The main theme of this review seems to be: I want more, and Martin isn’t giving it to me. That’s not much of a rebuke, if you ask me. It doesn’t say, ‘Don’t buy this book.’ Some of us are more tolerant of wanting more than others. I too want more, but I also do not want the series to end, as with any really great book. That happens to make me more tolerant of the filler, and of waiting. In any case, I’d rather not have to wait however long, but having to wait for the next book hardly makes this book a bad one.

    This attitude colors some of your specific indictments. I agree that the Jaime, Arya, Cersei, Victarion and Davos chapters are the equivalent of “just the tip,” but if you like getting excited for what are sure to be major plot developments in Winds of Winter, they work, sort of.

    That said, your assessment of the Quentyn chapters is right on, and so is your disappointment with Daenerys. The Queen we left at the end of Storm thundering forth to reconquer her kingdom is not the angsty teen we have to put with in Dance. But even here, she got to fly a freakin’ dragon, so that’s cool. Finally, I’d just echo the P.S., but with a different slant: one reason this is less satisfying is that it requires more work, but in my experience, it also rewards the extra effort demanded.

    And Martin is far, far better than Tolkein. I’ll be happy to defend that if anyone cares.Report

  9. Avatar Aaron W says:

    While I would agree that the North chapters are definitely the best (in particular I loved the ‘Reek’/Theon chapters and the Jon chapters) and that the whole thing really could have been edited down significantly (to remove a lot of fluff and useless POV characters), I really have to disagree with your assessment of the Tyrion chapters. There is some genuine character development in him that I really enjoyed and much of what he observes is crucial to the plot (e.g. Griff and young Griff). I can’t say I was wholly satisfied with the book but I don’t think my assessment of it was nearly as negative as yours.

    P.S. Why does everyone like Davos? I find his chapters to be very boring.

    P.S.S. I think it’s all but revealed that Jon Snow is Lyanna and Rhaegar’s son by Barristan Selmy in one of his chapters (which I wish there were more of) Here’s a quote from page 961:
    “Rhaegar had chosen Lyanna Stark of Winterfell. […] Sometimes when the queen looked at him, he felt as if he were looking at Ashara [Dayne]’s daughter… But Ashara’s daughter had been stillborn, and his fair lady had thrown herself from a tower soon after, mad with grief for the child she had lost, and perhaps for the man who had dishonored her at Harrenhal as well.”
    The other major candidate for Jon’s parentage is Ned and Ashara Dayne, but this all but discounts that.Report

    • Avatar Ryan B in reply to Aaron W says:

      Davos is Martin’s most natural/genuine character. He is the only character of any importance in the series who was not born into greatness, but he is arguably the one who deserves greatness the most. He’s also the only parent in the series (aside from perhaps Ned) whose love for his children isn’t pathological. His loyalty to Stannis is absolute but not blind, which I’ve pointed out in another thread is pretty similar to how the loyalty of friendships really works.Report

  10. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    One thing to note is the fact that for much of the book I was quite engrossed. By the end I felt very let down. So many disappointments.Report

    • In the last hundred pages or so, I started getting really frustrated because I realized how many things weren’t getting wrapped up until the next book. I remember the same feeling at the end of A Feast For Crows. The first time I read AFFC, I thought Brienne’s wanderings were nothing but annoying distractions. But when I re-read AFFC a few weeks ago, I enjoyed the Brienne chapters much more, and I think this is because I wasn’t as eager for the grand plot to keep moving as I was the first time. So I think the better aspects of these books will stand out when the reader’s not expecting plot motion.

      So on my next read-through, will I be charmed by the fastidious depictions of Mereen? Impressed by the implicit critique of hero-journeys embedded in the Quentyn sections? Entranced by the political-philosophy implications of Dany’s conundrums? Probably not… but it won’t be quite so rough when I’m resigned to the scope of the book.Report

  11. Avatar Craig says:

    I agree with most of what you wrote…. except I love Tyrion so much I was willing to overlook the “nothing” of a lot of his story. Up until “Dance” I loved Dany too.. this book made me like her storyline a bit less.

    I feel like he’s written so many storylines he’s going to have a hard time finishing in 2 books. I honestly wouldn’t mind 3 since I enjoy the world he’s created… I just can’t wait another 6 years between more books.

    I CANT STAND when he constantly rehashes events that have already occured that I have also already read! The fact he had Dany essentially giving us the cliff notes on her early story at the end of “Dance” shows he doesn’t have an editor.

    Lastly, I agree – if Jon is truly dead I am burning the books and the audio CDs I own.Report

  12. Avatar Andy says:

    I don’t really get why you (and others) think that there will be an Azor Ahai reborn. The world presented has many different religions and gods, the Lord of Light being just one among many. Why would Martin single out this religion to be the true one? It’s so Manichean: light and dark, with no grey. Martin’s always subverting or overturning the conventions and cliches of the fantasy genre. Why would he settle for an ultimate light versus dark showdown at the end?Report

    • Avatar Ryan B in reply to Andy says:

      A) There will be because Melisandre’s fire says so. She asked it show Azor Ahai, it showed Jon. Jon is therefore Azor Ahai. It’s pretty explicit.

      B) Is there some connection between the Lord of Light and Azor Ahai that I’m unaware of? If anything, my assumption would be that the religion is built up around the Azor Ahai prophecy rather than the other way around.Report

      • Avatar Andy in reply to Ryan B says:

        Yes, she sees Jon in her fire, but I’m asking why we should trust that. One of the consequences of the shifting POV narration that Martin has adopted is that everything is a bit unreliable. Just because Melisandre believes in R’hllor and that he sends messages in fire doesn’t mean that it’s true.

        I’m just saying that this whole idea of a messiah reborn to fight the darkness is an old trope, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin has invoked it only to subvert it, or do something completely different. He likes to play with expectations.Report

        • Avatar Ryan B in reply to Andy says:

          Given what’s happened up until now, I think we have ample reason to trust Melisandre’s fire. We also have ample reason to believe her when she says the fire is always right, even when she sometimes isn’t.Report

          • Avatar Andy in reply to Ryan B says:

            I don’t see how you can separate the two. We the readers don’t get to look into the fire. We only know what Melisandre says she sees in the fire.

            For several books now she thought Stannis was Azor Ahai, but now she thinks it’s Jon. Why would she be right now?Report

            • Avatar Ryan B in reply to Andy says:

              The point is that she doesn’t think it’s Jon. The fire tells her it is and she’s too stupid to interpret it properly.Report

              • Avatar Andy in reply to Ryan B says:

                You’re right that I worded that poorly. She doesn’t think it’s Jon yet, but she sees Jon in the fire when she asks to see Azor Ahai. I’m still questioning why we should trust anything she sees in the fire, no matter how she interprets it.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Andy says:

                Because everything she sees has come true, even if she misinterpreted what she was seeing. The real question is why you *wouldn’t* trust the fire, Melisandre’s prowess as seer (or lack thereof) notwithstanding.Report

              • Avatar Andy in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                I guess for me it’s not so much how right or wrong the fire is (and I can agree with both Ryan and E.D. that images in the fire have come true a number of times), but the bigger picture of religion and how it is tied to the plot as well as the conventions of the genre. Why would Martin privilege a religious point of view that is so Manichean and conventional for his plot? In the “game of thrones” Martin has repeatedly defied expectations and conventions. The players involved in the “game of thrones” have not been standard white hat, black hat characters. Why would this simplistic worldview of light vs. dark be the true vision of the world? It doesn’t sound like Martin to me.

                E.D., I would also add that while I find your prediction that Jon is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna compelling (it does seem to fit many of the clues given), it would be utterly conventional if true. The hero who is secretly royalty: how many times has that been done? I’m halfway hoping that Jon’s mother is completely mundane (assuming he is Ned’s bastard).

                My hope is that Martin surprises us all.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Andy says:

                Yes, but he would still be a bastard.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Andy says:

          I want to see Arya blindfighting the Lords of Fire, as they use light to try and blind her.Report

  13. Avatar Robin says:

    Ditto. Very disappointed after such a long wait. I hope the next novel is quick to follow and resolves
    Dances short comings and cliff hangers.Report

  14. Avatar Ben says:

    I think it would be alittle harsh to call the book a disappointment. Is it Martin’s best? No. I believe “A Feast For Crows” was his best written work with “A Storm of Swords” being his best book. However the one thing that plagues Feast is the same thing that plagues Dance, too many POVs/introduced characters that we as a reader care nothing about.

    Martin needs someone with experience and someone he can trust to trim the fat or this series will be drawn out way too long. This example happens over an over with writers and Martin (even if he thinks he is) is showing no exeption to this depressing phenomena. I agree that had both Feast and Dance been edited proper and packed together it would have topped “A Storm of Swords” without question.

    With that said “A Dance With Dragons” was still an epic read and deserves all the positive reviews it got. Don’t try to take credit away where it’s due. This book still tops every other fantasy of present. But hopefully Martin does go back to his roots of the first three books (only using the main POVs to tell the story) with the articulate writing of Feast, as I would rather own/read the greatest fantasy saga ever written instead of just having another good fantasy series to pass the time with and save me from my boring life.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Ben says:

      Well that’s largely what I was saying. I think the book could have been great…it just needed serious edits. Feast and Dance should not have expanded to so many different POV characters. It bogs the story down. Dance suffers from being bogged down too long outside of Westeros.Report

  15. Avatar Jim says:

    Just read the book and your review, I was very disappointed with the book and agree with your review. I think it is just a way to sell more books if feast and dance were combined it would have been great. Instead we are going to a series that is about three books to long just the wheel of time.Report

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