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"This is no game we're playing for your amusement."
on July 12, 2011
It has been SIX LONG YEARS since George R.R. Martin last released a book in his Song Of Ice And Fire Sequence. That's a pretty long wait.
So was "A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five" worth the wait? Well... yes and no. It returns to much-beloved characters like Tyrion, Bran and Daenarys and slowly moves us toward the complex, treacherous endgame of Westeros' power struggles. But it's also very slow-moving, and sometimes it feels like events are happening too slowly.
After killing his father, Tyrion flees his native land and ends up adrift in another, dependent on others for safety and shelter. So instead, he forges a new destiny for himself. Meanwhile, Bran is en route to the Wall, only to run into wargs and discover new facets of his mysterious skinchanging power.
The new Night Watch commander Jon Snow finds himself facing an incoming horde of wildlings, as well as the presence of grouchy King Stannis and his bloodthirsty priestess Melisandre. Jon is determined to keep doing what he thinks is right, but his steadfastness may also be his undoing.
Having conquered the city of Meereen, Daenarys starts learning the ropes of queenship there, as well as caring for her three rapidly-growing dragons. Of course, she soon discovers that it's a lot harder than it sounds, as she becomes enmeshed in a deadly tangle of love, treason, ambition and bloody murder.
It's honestly hard to sum up a George R.R. Martin's books without giving away far too much, or going into countless detailed subplots. However, this book is very slow moving, and there isn't a lot of forward momentum until the last several chapters. It feels like Martin is arranging his vast chessboard for a the final clash, but it's going to be slow moving until he's done.
However, even a Martin book moving forward slowly is a striking experience. He embroiders this bloodspattered tapestry with vivid prose ("he fluttered like a burning leaf, a moth caught in a candle flame"), sex, and quite a bit of gruesome violence handled very casually (when a man is beheaded, someone asks, "Can I have his boots?").
The only very flawed scene that springs to mind is Daenarys' final scene, which is so melodramatic as to be almost silly. And yes, it ends on a multiple cliffhanger. Prepare to scream in frustration.
As for the vast cast of flawed, intriguing characters, Martin only handles some of them -- we see more of Bran's burgeoning powers, Jon's bleak, frustrating life as a commander, the determined Tyrion afloat without his family's influence, and Daenarys' quiet nature at war with her "dragon's blood."
Well, he touches on some of the other characters -- such as Cersei -- but mostly focuses on those four. And without revealing too much, yet another much-loved character seems to have bitten the proverbial dust.
"A Dance of Dragons" dances too slowly, but it's still a deeply absorbing read -- and it feels like George R.R. Martin is arranging the grand finale. Let's hope the next book doesn't take six years.