With the publishers gearing up for the release of A Dance with Dragons on 12 July, George R.R. Martin is continuing to round off the book, reporting that the novel has passed 1,600 pages in manuscript. In order to hit the July publishing date, the book apparently has to be handed in at some point in May; such is the manner in which the bulk of the book has already been edited, copy-edited and typeset, the publishers literally can get the book on shelves from delivery of the final pages in just a matter of weeks, which is an impressive achievement.
Of course, the book passing 1,600 pages has triggered concerns about fitting the book into one volume. Martin has previously said that A Storm of Swords - 1,521 manuscript pages and 420,000 words - was at the upper limit of what his publishers could put in one book. More ominously, the decision to split A Feast for Crows came when the manuscript for that book also exceeded 1,600 pages.
No-one seems to have talking about a split - at least in the hardcover edition - just yet, indicating several factors have come into play. First off, sales of A Song of Ice and Fire have increased since 2000 to the point where a new George R.R. Martin novel is in the same sales bracket as a new Stephen King or a new Robert Jordan. Economies of scale mean that the publishers can now be much more confident of making a significant return and profit even given the greater production costs involved in producing a 1,000-1,100 page hardcover. Secondly, A Feast for Crows was split not just because of the 1,600 MS-page size, but also because Martin was still projecting that hundreds of more pages would be required at that point to bring the book to completion. For Dragons, Martin is projecting merely dozens more (and it appears all or most of these pages exist in draft, needing only finalisation rather than writing from scratch).
Still, when combined with the appendices this will likely leave the completed Dragons around 1,700 pages in manuscript. Based on the previous books in the series, this will likely leave the book at a word count of over 450,000 words, possibly as much as 470,000.
For comparison with other SFF novels of immense length, Tad Williams' To Green Angel Tower is 520,000 words, Peter F. Hamilton's The Naked God has been estimated at 470,000 words and the complete, one-volume Lord of the Rings is around 460,000 words. Recent doorstops The Way of Kings (by Brandon Sanderson) and The Wise Man's Fear (by Patrick Rothfuss) are positively modest in comparison, coming in at 385,000 and 395,000 words respectively.
Of course, whilst the size of the book is impressive, far more telling is how well the narrative supports that immense length. If Martin delivers a huge novel which also furthers the overall storyline of A Song of Ice and Fire decisively, that will be a great achievement, but a filler-filled book will be less popular. I guess in 104 days, we'll find out for sure.