28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Dancing Out of the Corner,
This review is from: A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five (Hardcover)I enjoyed reading Martin's latest novel, but even 100 pages into it I began to feel a growing dread that this was not going to be a book to equal A STORM OF SWORDS. The narrative pace crept when it should have galloped. Over-long passages were devoted to what people ate for breakfast, local scenery or history. Ever more viewpoint characters were introduced, meaning that less time was available to advance the story of existing characters.
All of this detail is great fodder for ancillary projects: compendiums, encyclopedias, tie-in games, etc. But a rousing story it does not make.
There are some great touches. In particular, in the Reek chapters, Martin does for Theon Greyjoy what he had previously done for other anti-heroes like Jaime Lannister, giving him a powerful, personal story. The paranormal content rises significantly, but remains consistent with what has gone before and does not overwhelm the story. The dragons are depicted very well as creatures of fire and fury. Davos has some entertaining adventures.
There are too many viewpoints. The problem seems to be that Martin has maneuvered almost all of the "primary" characters into some form of prison, or slavery (Theon, Cersei, Tyrion, Aisha, Davos, the dragons), or into figurative bondage (bound by duty, destiny, or oath as in the case of Dani, Bran, Jon, Arya, etc.). No one has room to maneuver. Everyone is stuck. While this gives A Dance with Dragons a certain thematic unity ("escape!") it doesn't help that Martin is in no hurry to set things up. At any one time at least half the cast is either in prison, visiting someone in prison. What's worse, when they aren't in prison, they spend most of their times stuck aboard ships or boats on the way to a destiny that always seems just out of reach, beset by storms, pirates, slavers, and other traditional perils. The mark of a good character is the decisions he must make. Individuals bound by chains or oaths or duty have little no room to weigh these choices. Eventually, circumstances or decision DO break some of these bonds but it's a long time coming. It's a mark of the strength of Theon's chapter that despite his circumstances - worse than that of most other characters - he makes choices.
With almost all of the main characters so constrained, Martin has two choices: get someone them out of trouble STAT, or add new characters who aren't constrained to move the plot along. Unfortunately, he chooses the latter, with the predictable result that even less time is spent on anyone we care about, and more time is spent introducing new faces who serve mainly as spoilers to kick the plot along. In doing so, the addition of one character, a lost heir, seems to come completely out of left field, with the unfortunately consequence of weakening the apparent important of one of the series' core characters.
So as to not end of a negative note, however, one element I did like was the introduction of some new villains. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE has been hard on its heroes but even harder on its villains, with many of the more memorable antagonists either disposed of or (to some extent) reformed or made understandable (e.g. Jaime, Littlefinger), while the "white walkers" - the wights - remain an oddly impersonal menace. Both Ramsay Snow and Victarion Greyjoy get some extra development here, making the latter especially more credible as a future antagonist. Cersei also has potential to emerge back on stage, though perhaps more as a catspaw than an actual opponent.