A Dance with Dragons is the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin, and to say it was long awaited would be an understatement. Released in 2011, this book resumes the storylines of characters left idle since A Storm of Swords in 2000- namely Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister. They are the big three in terms of POV chapters, and between them they are the bulk of the book. So we’re talking over 10 years of waiting to resume these storylines! Was the wait worth it? In a word- yes.
The storylines of the main characters were fun to read, although in some cases a little unsatisfying. Tyrion travels half the world to meet Daenerys, and is very close at the end, but after a thousand pages it was a little frustrating that he’s just getting there. Martin seems to be showing us as much of his world as he can, and while it’s enthralling and fun it is also slowing the plot waaay down. Tyrion as always is great, and has some great lines, but his arc is indicative of the whole book- the storyline is still expanding, not winding down.
I enjoyed Jon’s storyline although I thought he made some bad decisions. Jon has to balance the needs of the Nights Watch against the demands Stannis is placing upon him, while at the same time strengthen the Wall. The things he does, while perhaps necessary, are so counter to the Nights Watch that he was bound to make enemies. Still the ending was shocking! It’s a good thing Melisandre is at the Wall- I think he’s going to need her help at this point.
A lot happens in Jon’s chapters, but at the same time he’s still at the Wall and I can’t help but think how in the first three books he came to the Watch, went beyond the Wall, rode with the wildlings, came back and became Lord Commander. Again, a sense that the plot has slowed down.
Daenerys is even more frustrating for me than Jon. I’ve never been a huge fan of Dany, mainly because I just don’t like her decisions. Settling in Meereen was baffling to me, and she’s still in the vicinity at the end of book five. I know she wants to learn to be a good ruler, but in my view she should have went to Westeros a long time ago. Or at the very least by now she should be making preparations for Westeros, but she’s still bogged down in the east. That may change soon, however. Still, again I couldn’t help thinking that after a thousand pages we’re still not done with Meereen.
Having said all that, I got more mileage out of the secondary characters. Davos’ storyline takes him in an unexpected direction. Davos has always been a favorite of mine- he’s been raised to lordship but he is a common man by birth, with a common sense perspective. I loved the chapter where he meets with Manderly. Yeah- that’s all I can say about that. The north remembers.
The most interesting storyline for me in this book may have been the Jon Connington chapters. I thought Connington’s perspective was fascinating. I can’t say much here without massive spoilers- see my spoilery review for that. Suffice to say that this takes the story in an all new direction, and adds another player to the game of thrones.
The last third of the book is where things start happening at a breakneck pace- each chapter has a cliffhanger. These are probably the biggest cliffhangers of the whole series, and the most frustrating. I mean, we have two pivotal battles that are imminent, a HUGE development at the Wall- and we have to wait. The epilogue is a reminder that anything can happen in this series and the next book should start off with a bang- except that it’s probably a ways off yet. That’s what is truly frustrating. In an interview Martin’s editor noted that some material was held back for the next book. With the wait between books being what it is, I really feel Martin or his editor should have given us resolution of at least one of these cliffhangers.
Nevertheless this is such an absorbing, fun, immersive book that I highly recommend it. It’s a breath of fresh air after the disappointing A Feast for Crows. The first Tyrion chapter has him sailing across the narrow sea, picking up his storyline from eleven years ago, which just felt weird! We then revisit Daenerys and Jon and from there the book just picks up steam. There are shocks and surprises galore, revelations and secrets- it’s not always a series for the faint of heart, but the rewards are tremendous for those who have been anxiously waiting for more from these characters.
Bottom line- this is a fantastic book, with a ton of subplots and details and secrets. It’s fun if you like this world at all, and I could keep reading these storylines forever. In terms of the overall plot though, it has slowed down so much that it’s hard to see the Winds of Winter being much different- we’ll get more forward movement but if the pace continues at this rate, can Martin finish in two books? Only time will tell.
In the shadow of the Wall, the direwolf brushed up against his fingers. For half a heartbeat the night came alive with a thousand smells, and Jon Snow heard the crackle of the crust breaking on a patch of old snow. Someone was behind him, he realized suddenly. Someone who smelled warm as a summer day.
When he turned he saw Ygritte.
She stood beneath the scorched stones of the Lord Commander’s Tower, cloaked in darkness and in memory. The light of the moon was in her hair, her red hair kissed by fire. When he saw that, Jon’s heart leapt into his mouth. “Ygritte,” he said.
“Lord Snow.” The voice was Melisandre’s.