My only consolation is that I started the series after this came out. I can't even imagine waiting 10 years for "A Feast For Crows" and "A Dance With Dragons".
A Dance With Dragons was a chore to read, even more so than Feast. By the last quarter, I found myself sighing, grunting, and skimming pages in frustration. It is beautifully written, but gets a 1 star because of the following:
GRRM is a brilliant man. He knows what he is doing, which either makes the last 2 books in this series a work of incredibly isolated ambition, or a flagrant show of dishonesty. Creating such fantastic cliffhangers, then barely addressing them over the course of the following 10 years/2 books/2000 pages/$30-$50 is an intentional move, no matter which way you slice it. It's not something "we don't get" or "different than we expected". It's manipulative, not unlike reality TV. Whatever the motives (getting us to buy the next volume, stalling for time), it's a little stinky. Plus, the author's apparent refusal to take this criticism seriously doesn't bode well for the rest of the series.
Onto the actual book : There is an incredible amount of filler, and too many concurrent storylines that go nowhere. The overlapping Feast For Crows timeline stunt was cheap, but cheaper still was not to use the rest of that timeline to tie up loose ends. We keep reading, hoping for a closure that never comes. He has completely shied away from what made the first 3 books so great. Gripping characters and fast moving action, all set inside a fascinating, lively, ruthless world. I thought A Feast For Crows was just him taking a breather, but turns out he's lost it for good. What a monumental fall from grace.
With that said, my main gripe with the series as a whole is this :
GRRM has a way of introducing fantastic characters and, if not killing them off altogether, assassinating the particular attachment we have to them, while not giving us anything in return. He just suddenly amputates whatever excitement we have for their stories. Every arc is always somehow..stunted. Why do this? It's unrewarding and exhausting. Jaime Lannister, touted as one of the most dangerous men ever with a sword, gets his sword hand chopped off. ok...so now what? Bran, the ultimate climber with the ultimate secret, has his legs broken, and loses his memory. Ok...now what? Khal Drogo, strong, leader of the Dothraki, UNDEFEATED SINCE FOREVER!! dies, his army scattered...ok. Robb Stark, king of the north, symbol of love and justice!! murdered, his army scattered...King Stannis, harsh, but fair, leading an army with the amazing powers of the FIRE GOD...freezes to death, his army scattered. ok. Brienne, devotes her life to Catelyn Stark, dies at the hands of Catelyn Stark...ok. Dany, waker of dragons, conqueror of the eastern lands to make her way into Westeros, is now afraid of dragons, and refuses to go to Westeros....ok..? Cersei, insidious, proud, beautiful, intelligent...is now foolish, childish, humiliated, weak and ugly...her relationship with Jaime, once a pivotal characteristic of the Lannisters' strength and moral bankruptcy, is now in shambles...ok, but where to now? Littlefinger, the most scheming of them all, and arguably the most efficient player in this game of thrones....was sent to rule the only neutral Kingdom in the realm. ok then. And Jon Snow...I don't even want to try to understand this one.
The list goes on and on...He pushes us away from every character that matters, but never calls us back. We keep finding our footing only to hit a brick wall. That + all those new characters and twice as many cliffhangers...It's just not fun anymore :( It's an abusive test of a reader's patience, excitement and goodwill.
Let's just pray Tyrion won't have his tongue torn out in the next book, shall we?