From the Wall to Slaver’s Bay, the world is blighted by war and chaos. In Westeros, the War of the Five Kings continues to rumble on, as Stannis Baratheon regroups his forces at Castle Black and prepares to march against the Boltons, with the northern houses divided between the two sides. In King’s Landing, intrigue seethes as two queens prepare to stand trial. In Dorne, long-gestating plans finally start to see fruition. In the Free Cities, an army of exiles and sellswords from Westeros gathers, breaking their contracts in the hope of finally seeing home and hope again. In Slaver’s Bay, a young girl must try to unite warring factions howling for her blood, unaware that her every command sends reverberations through the balance of trade and power in the world, and even dragons may not be enough to protect her…
A Dance with Dragons is the fifth novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series and probably the most eagerly-awaited epic fantasy novels in the recent history of the genre. It may be six years since A Feast for Crows was published, but it's eleven since A Storm of Swords came out and the last time we saw new material from Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen or Tyrion Lannister, the arguable central triptych of characters around whom the whole series rotates. The risk is high that Martin would deliver a novel that fails to meet expectations.
Fortunately, he succeeds in giving ASoIaF fans a book that is almost everything its predecessor wasn’t. Whilst Crows was tightly-focused and constrained in geographic setting, Dragons is huge, epic and sprawling. The novel covers events happening almost five thousand miles apart from one another, with a huge cast of characters, old and new. Where there are new characters, they are there to serve specific plot points and get the storyline really moving along, whilst some major existing characters are simply not featured where they have nothing to contribute to the storyline. Martin employs a fairly strict POV structure this time around: Dany, Jon and Tyrion (and, to a lesser extent, another character) get a significant number of chapters each but everyone else only gets a few. Once their work for the novel is done, they’re outta there, and other POVs only show up when needed. This gives the novel a busy, revolving-door feeling at times as characters come in, do what needs to be done, and then get out, and gives some individual storylines and chapters a rather concise, focused feel, despite this being a huge, long book. Certainly with these ’lesser’ POVs, there’s little to no time for filler, though with some of the bigger POVs there are rare moments when Martin dwells on a story point a bit too long or delivers bit of background information which, whilst intriguing, doesn’t really contribute much to the storyline at hand.
It’s a busy book with lots happening, possibly more than any other book in the series bar only A Storm of Swords (I took notes whilst reading, and by the end they amounted to a ludicrous 12 A4 pages in length). It’s also the most disparate, and the geographic sprawl would make it easy for Martin to lose control of either the timeline or the plot focus. He doesn’t do either, and by the end of the novel the timelines have been pretty much re-synched (with plenty of AFFC characters reappearing in the final few chapters to resolve their cliffhangers and keep everything moving). Thematically, the book is much concerned with the notion of deeds, not words (the term “Words are wind,” is oft-repeated, probably a little bit too much) and the notion that you can only know people by what they do, not what they say. Disease and pestilence also play a role, whilst for the military engagements Martin expands his influences to include Napoleon’s ill-fated march into Russia during the winter of 1812. These scenes are vivid enough to make you feel chilly even if you’re reading the book on the beach.
This series is known for its plot twists, sudden shocks and major character deaths, and Martin doesn’t stint here. Some twists are genuinely shocking (though a couple have some carefully-built-in get-out clauses), on the level of the Red Wedding or higher, though others are a bit more predictable, with the author having taken care to lay some groundwork in earlier novels. Other elements come out of nowhere: the resolution of a key, major backstory mystery from the very first novel (probably not the one you’re thinking of) is unexpected in both happening with two books still to go, and also in the amount of detail it gives. Another twist is bravely pulled off with almost solely the use of new characters and actually works, throwing almost all of the carefully-constructed fan theories out there for a loop (and it's done with the economy of chapters that A Feast for Crows was at times crying out for).
Characterisation is particularly strong, and Martin seems to relish some descriptive passages. A detailed account of the Doom of Valyria – quite a few books overdue – is spine-crawling and disturbing, whilst another one of Martin’s trademark huge feasts may feel over-familiar right up until you realise what’s really going on, at which point a belly laugh is the only possible response.
A Dance with Dragons is a somewhat bleak book. Winter has fallen in all its fury and it really doesn’t seem possible for the war-ravaged Seven Kingdoms to survive, particularly in the North, with no harvest taken in and little to no supplies put to one side. Some characters are trapped in nightmarish situations whilst others have to be careful with every decision they make lest they trigger chaos and bloodshed. But there are moments of comedy and lightness, and the feeling that in the darkness there is still hope for these people and their world, if they can turn things around.
Towards the end, A Dance with Dragons picks up an irresistible momentum which brings us towards what looks like the biggest convergence and battle in the series to date. But, in a misstep that could have been fatal if not handled better, we never quite get to that climax, which seems to have been mostly delayed to the start of The Winds of Winter. Instead Martin breaks off the book on a series of titanic cliffhangers that dwarf anything seen previously, and only a few story threads find any sense of resolution. But, just as that sinks in and a small note of disappointment creeps into things, we then get a couple of concluding chapters featuring some of the most pivotal and startling moments in the series to date, and the real sense that whatever readers think A Song of Ice and Fire is about, or how it will end, Martin is not necessarily interested in doing the same thing. The ending is impressive, despite the cliffhangers, but brings in a little note of bitter sweetness: waiting a year for The Winds of Winter would be hard enough, but the fact that we know we’ll probably have a lot longer to wait is truly frustrating.
A Dance with Dragons (****½) solves a lot of the problems experienced in the previous book in the series and brings renewed energy and focus to getting this story towards the endgame. A series of cliffhangers, some over-used terms (though "Nuncle," only gets one airing, thankfully) and a feeling that Martin might be revisiting some plot elements a little too freely dent the book's achievements, but a series of emotionally intense and surprising final chapters restore the faith that Martin has regained control of the story. The novel will be published on 12 July in the UK and USA, but given how many bookstores have broken the embargo, you may get lucky before then.
Full disclosure: I am a moderator on the Westeros.org website, the creator and chief admin of the Game of Thrones Wiki and someone who is mentioned in the acknowledgements of the book. Whilst I have tried to have been as honest as possible in my review, you may want to bear those factors in mind.
It's painful to know that we´ll have to wait another 5-6 years for the next one. It's killing me.
Nice review, Adam.
I've only read the first book and I've been waiting for the series to be concluded beofre reading everything.
But the TV series and your review spiked my interest again and I think I'll go ahead and read all the books.
Could you give me your opinion? I've read the first book around 9 years ago, so it's natural that I might not recall many details. I've watched the TV series, which I guess can be used as a recap of the first book.
Since you mention in this review that there is a resolution for a major/key backstory mystery from the first book, I wonder if it's okay to start reading from the 2nd book of the series, or if that key plot wasn't present in the TV series, so there's a chance I might not remember it when I read aGoT 9 years ago.
What do you think?
Adam, do you think that we're looking at 7 books in the series... or was this book inconclusive enough to assume that George will be extending it?
I don't think the next one will be 5-6 years. It won't be 1-2 or anything like that, but I think 3 is achievable, 4 more likely. A lot of the problems in AFFC and ADWD that caused the problems are now gone.
The major mystery point from the first book is shown in the TV series, but it is much more de-emphasised than in the books. But it's there.
If it's going to be 7, it's going to be tight. It's doable though, especially given things are just starting to converge a bit towards the end. If that continues through Book 6, than yes, 7 is possible.
I wouldn't be too stunned if GRRM admitted it was going to be 8 though. There is a lot of stuff to get through to get to any kind of resolution.
Some twists are genuinely shocking (though a couple have some carefully-built-in get-out clauses), on the level of the Red Wedding or higher,
*Whistles*. That does me extremely curious. The Red Wedding was one of the most shocking moments in the entire series up to this point.
Another twist is bravely pulled off with almost solely the use of new characters and actually works, throwing almost all of the carefully-constructed fan theories out there for a loop
I'll laugh and laugh if it's a certain set of theories related to Jon Snow, even though I believe that theory.
Great review. It's difficult to think about waiting so long for the next book....but man its such a great series. Why not! Might be time for a reread of the whole bunch. : )
When the book is out and we've all read it, I hope you do a more thorough analysis. Please!
Thanks for the review, so does this means the review embargo has been lifted?
Also will you be discussing this book in more detail[including spoilers] after a while?
Great review!!! I'm moving on the Feast of Crows for the release of this new book. I'm glad I started the series when I did so I didn't have to wait. I can't wait to read what happens. Your review has me excited!
Just finishing my reread Alex and I can't believe how much I've forgotten - especially from Feast which despite being most recent didn't stick with me.
Probably because I can't stand Brienne. #heathen
Another perspective on some of these questions from someone who's read the book (and reviewed it on his own blog, if anyone cares).
How many more books? Personally, I think that at this point every surviving character has two more books' worth of development: the final evolution toward their final role in the story, and then the carrying out of that role. The question for me is whether that final evolution for every character can be accomplished within a single book. I'm hopeful that, with the end in sight, the author will be able to tighten book six as necessary to achieve that.
I'd also say 3-4 years between books is reasonable, for the reasons given. I doubt we'll have a return to the ridiculously fast writing pace with which STORM was produced, but now the awkward middle of the story is out of the way, I think (hope, anyway, for GRRM's sake if nothing else) the writing will become easier as the remaining books progress.
I wouldn't be shocked if the next book was closer to 2 years than 5. I think Mr. Martin is re-energized on this project as a result of the TV series and finally being over the 11 year hump on this part of the story. I doubt he'd ever admit it, but I think part of the delay with the last 2 books is that there were simply other projects and other parts of his career that became more interesting to him during that time.
Reading your disclosures of other affiliations I finally get why this blog has at times been dominated by G.R.R.M. info. The series lost me into book 3 so it doesn't really excite me to see the latest in the TV series advertising campaign and cross-border covers. But I keep coming back, so it can't be a complete disaster. When is the next Iain M Banks review?
Hey Wert, thanks for the spoiler-lite review, I always value your opinion on books. I'm a little disappointed that you didn't think it was as good as the first three books though, which all got 5 stars from you.
I was hoping Dance would at least be on par with the earlier ones. Oh well, I'm still glad you found it to be an improvement over Feast, even though I've never disliked AFfC as much as others do. I suppose 4.5 stars isn't bad but I was hoping for a real return to form from GRRM. Still can't wait to get my hands on a copy though.
I'm afraid to read your review in too much detail because I have (obviously) yet to read the book. However, I will say that your review, and the overview I gave it, got me REALLY excited to get my hands on this book.
Great review, Adam, and not just because I agree with most of what you wrote. ;)
"Some twists are genuinely shocking (though a couple have some carefully-built-in get-out clauses), on the level of the Red Wedding or higher"
I wouldn't say that, although you are right about the possible emergency exits. After the Red Wedding, it was clear that at least some of the characters involved were dead; even though not all of them stayed that way.
But most (granted, not all) of the big shocks in 'A Dance with Dragons' are cliffhangers of the most brutal kind. So naturally, we don't really know what's the deal yet - and won't for another three to four years, alas...
Great review, I've managed to keep my excitement in check, but with a flurry of reviews today I've lost my composure!
One quick question I have is this:
Reading the book is it obvious which part was the infamous 'Mereenessee Knot'?
Thank you for making me buy the book!
I enjoyed but was not thrilled by the first season of the show, and I'm currently re-reading, surviving, but being rather disappointed by, the first novel [not TOO surprised I'm no t liking it much - I didn't like most of it the first time either]. On top of that, I was distinctly unimpressed by AFFC, both in its prose and in the author's (seemingly dwindling) command of the plot. As a result (and since John and Dany are perhaps my least favourite characters), I was strongly considering waiting for the paperback this time.
But wow! That's pretty glowing. More importantly, though, [you can never trust people's opinions on quality about series like these, people are too invested] you tick all the right boxes for "this book advances the plot", which after struggling through most of WOT a few years ago is what I most wanted to hear...
If it proves to be the best book so far, I'll give Martin a pass on the amount of time it took him to write it.
I can't wait to read about the Doom of Valyria.
"The major mystery point from the first book is shown in the TV series, but it is much more de-emphasised than in the books. But it's there."
hmm.. jon's parentage? the fate of benjen stark? or something else..
i'm going with number 2 FTW :)
"Some twists are genuinely shocking (though a couple have some carefully-built-in get-out clauses), on the level of the Red Wedding or higher"
I have a bad feeling that Jamie is going to die in this book. I really hope I'm wrong, I think his death would hurt more than Red Wedding.
It looks like I'll be biting my nails all through ADWD.
Great review thanks!
Yup, the review embargo was lifted today. Hence why suddenly the Internet was flooded with them.
A more spoiler-heavy re-appraisal could be on the cards for a month or two after the book comes out, though discussions of that kind will also be ongoing on Tower of the Hand, Westeros and many other websites.
As for the ASoIaF-heavy recent coverage, yes that's something I'm very much aware of. I try to balance out ASoIaF stuff with non-ASoIaF stuff (if not a lot more) but with the TV series and the new book, that's been trickier recently. I do have a lot of readers who aren't particularly into ASoIaF or the TV series, and hopefully now ADWD is out (or almost so) and the TV series is over (for a while), we can move onto other things.
And yes, the Iain M. Banks readathon was interrupted a while ago, as I'd run out of his books that I own (I do have some 'non-M' books I could do though). I need to pick up EXCESSION, INVERSIONS and SURFACE DETAIL and get back into it. Same with the Pratchett readathon, which went on hiatus halfway through the series.
The 'Meereenese Knot' is pretty much what it says on the tin. The situation in Meereen (and outside, and characters a fair distance away who are headed there) is fairly complicated and I can see how it could have caused problems. Fortunately, it seems to have mostly been resolved in this book.
"I'm a little disappointed that you didn't think it was as good as the first three books though, which all got 5 stars from you."
It's not far off. It drops the half-star because of the abundance of unresolved cliffhangers, but that is a temporary problem. On a future re-appraisal once the next book is out, ADWD could possibly jump up to the full five when you know you don't have to wait 3/6/10 years for the next installment.
After reading ADWD, has your view of AFFC changed at all? Will readers look back at AFFC and say - wow, that was a great setup, it's obvious now why those stories were told the way they were, or will it remain a transition book that was spread a bit thin in places?
Bonzi: The problem is that Martin still has tons of side projects, and continues to announce more. He just finished his season two episode, but between his book tour and Dunk and Egg and other short stories that he's promised to write and the three anthologies he seems to edit per year with Doznois and Wild Cards and meetings for merchandising/HBO/etc... When is he going to get any work done on the book this year? How much will he be able to write every year? I'm also sceptical that all the problems of the series have been resolved and that now it's just a straight line to completion- after AFFC, everyone was convinced the next book would take 1-2 and a half years tops. We know how that turned out. Here's to hoping I'm wrong though...
More importantly, four days till I finally can read this book! The reviews are extremely encouraging (minus the cliffhanger part, which is Martin's worst habit as a writer). Can't wait to read this! Kind of surreal to think that it'll be here so soon after waiting so long...
Now that you've read it, how do you think it would work as an adaptation in the tv series?
I heard some people say that between books 4 and 5, they will have to split into 3 seasons, which I am doubtful of. I think pretty much all the events in book 4 could be dispensed in the equivalent of 5 episodes, since not much happens.
"It's not far off. It drops the half-star because of the abundance of unresolved cliffhangers, but that is a temporary problem."
And /this/ is the clarification I was hoping for! Thanks, Wert, for the great review!
I think if you took the closing chapters for each AFFC character in ADWD and moved them back to AFFC, you'd have a stronger novel. And certainly ADWD makes it a lot clearer how the Greyjoy and Martell storylines are feeding into the main storylines and struggles of the series, and how important they are. I think AFFC's biggest problem is the pacing, and ADWD highlights that by having a stronger and faster pace with more memorable and iconic scenes than AFFC.
I still like AFFC, but now that ADWD is out it could well highlight the problems with AFFC rather than resolve them. Though of course the biggest problem - waiting for the next book after it - has now been solved :-)
I'm sure this will be attempted on westeros.org, but what do you, Adam, think about the possibility of joining all chapters of 'A Feast for Crows' and 'A Dance with Dragons' in chronological order? Do you think that it could possibly work and result in one gargantuan but nevertheless readable novel? (I know that at least two chapters are, in fact, chronologically congruent while partly dealing with the same events: The Sam and Jon chapters at the beginning of each book. But though this is odd, it shouldn't be a catastrophe...)
A Great review and nicely balanced.
I'm picking up my pre - ordered copy on Tuesday, but as Iv've just started Dust of Dreams, I wont get to it for a couple of months as I finish off the Malazan series.
However I've found your recap's a great reminder of whats taken place so far and a big thumbs up to you Adam for them.
So will GRRM be doing books signings in the uk?
Without having read ADWD, completely agree. If the beginning of Feast had been heavily condensed and each character had gotten another two-three chapters to finish off their storylines, it would have been a much stronger book.
A combined AFFC-ADWD (A FEAST OF DRAGONS? A DANCE WITH CROWS?) would be broadly doable, but would have one enormous problem: the ironborn chapters in AFFC happen halfway through A STORM OF SWORDS. Combining the two books would put you in the position of having Asha's ADWD chapters happening pretty much instantly after her AFFC ones (the ones that actually happened in ASoS), or possibly even before some of them, which would cause extreme confusion.
So you could do it but you'd have to rip out the AFFC ironborn chapters and drop them back into ASoS as well. And we could also get into GRRM's potentially Erikson-esque (okay, not that bad) treatment of Arya in the timeline, which I suspect was done specifically to make the guy on Westeros who created the timeline cry :-P
In addition, ADWD is a massive book of huge scope that approaches being confusing anyway. Adding another 800 pages to it wouldn't help this at all. Maybe combining the books chronologically, splitting them in half and reading them like that (a bit like how I suspect HBO will handle them) may be more fruitful.
I understand there are plans afoot to do something when GRRM is in Belfast to visit the set during the filming of Season 2. How that will work or when (Season 2 films from July 25 up to Christmas) remains to be seen.
"Whilst I have tried to have been as honest as possible in my review, you may want to bear those factors in mind."
Your factors of awesomeness you mean? ;-)
"(though "Nuncle," only gets one airing, thankfully) "
How about "hey nanny nanny"?
This review got me even MORE excited for the book. CAN'T WAIT for Tuesday.
Also, I'm so happy we've got five books now, and are only two away from the end!
I know HBO announced that they are doing 10 episodes for season 2 (not really enough to cover everything in my opinion). at this point, can anybody see HBO trying to fit ADWD into just 10 episodes?
Can't wait to hear about the Doom. 'Spine-crawling and disturbing' with Martin is usually a good indicator that my spine will actually crawl.
"I know HBO announced that they are doing 10 episodes for season 2 (not really enough to cover everything in my opinion). at this point, can anybody see HBO trying to fit ADWD into just 10 episodes?"
Honestly, I can't even see them adapting the book at all.
The scope is tremendous, the many locations are wide apart without much of a narrative connection, the sets are huge, as are the number of secondary characters, soldiers/wildlings, ships (especially expensive!) and general special effects. If HBO should ever get past a fourth season (and thus past "A Storm of Swords") they will, in my opinion, face the most difficult high-budget adaptation ever attempted in the fantasy genre.
I love that!!
George latest book...
I can't waiting for release day of this book..
Just read the book. Crown of Swords take 2...I waited how many years for this?
Please tell me the "spine-crawling and disturbing" account of the Doom is something other than a paragraph of Tyrion musing on how a bunch of volcanos raped Valyria. Figured as much on previous accounts, but it's not exactly disturbing. :/
I think this was a pretty generous review. While I enjoyed the book a great deal, there are so many chapters that are unnecessary and do little to advance the plot for the series as whole. This book was an opportunity for him to really drive the story forward but instead 2 of the 3 main characters of the book waste much of their time with delays, detours, and dawdling.
If he somehow manages to wrap this up in 7 books, I might have to eat those words, but this book did little and less to convince me that he has the self-restraint to cut out some of the superfluous material and drive things forward.
Someone please help me. Is the sixth book limited availability until September??? That's what I've heard, and there's a review of Winds of Winter here:
Is this for real?
Partially true, but I don't know, I don't see that necessarily as a drawback. Even the bits that don't advance the overarching plot much are beautifully written and full of insights into the characters and information on aspects of the backstory that hitherto haven't been explained. So I guess it comes down to what exactly you want to get out of reading these novels, and how quickly you want to "cut to the chase". Personally, I liked this one a great deal and agree that it was more dynamic and exciting than AFfC, but then again I liked AFfC just fine too.
Wow, the fake review of "Winds of Winter" that Anonymous linked to is fun. Actually, this is a proper review of a fake book. The first time in my life that I find trolling funny.
"Someone please help me. Is the sixth book limited availability until September??? That's what I've heard, and there's a review of Winds of Winter here"
No. Excellent trollage there. Almost convincing (the poison winds are a nice touch) until he falls into the 'Dany's going to Asshai' trap, which was long ago ruled out by GRRM. Combined with GRRM saying he won't start Book 6 until the end of the year, and it's pretty much total bollocks. Nice fake cover though.
OK, I've read it now, and I'm not sure I get your review. It's not a bad book, certainly a step up from AFFC, and it's got some great moments. But: shocking twists on the level of the red wedding or higher? Cliffhangers beyond anything seen so far? Well no. So far as I can see, the end of the novel exists only to press the reset button and make the whole of AFFC and ADWD more or less pointless. In the end, nothing has happened. There is one cliffhanger, the "is X going to die?" cliffhanger, but by now that's lost its teeth. Either X doesn't die or X 'dies' in some way that doesn't stop them from being alive. Other than that, there are a couple of characters who'll need another novel or two to extricate themselves from their situation, but nobody actually clinging to a cliff edge. And throughout the novel, nothing actually surprising happened, let alone shocking, until that big one near the end. And that would only be shocking if it actually had consequences, which it almost certainly won't.
On which note: what happened to the author who killed his characters? Time and again characters avoided death, even minor characters who didn't matter much. While characters who did die, or who died in previous books, turned out not to be dead after all. Martin's death appears to be a revolving door. On which note, one 'plot twist' seemed essentially to rely on internet fan speculation to make any sense, and I think anyone who hasn't spent ten years chasing down little clues will just be baffled by it.
I don't regret reading it... but I don't think it's at all the all-action twisty shocky wow book that your review (and others) have suggested.
Of the dangers of reading reviews before the book... I knew, I knew, but I was starved! :)
I thought the book was good, but I can't agree with the comparison to the Red Wedding: there was ample foreshadowing, plus direwolfish warnings...
There are also too many cliffhangers: Quentyn's storyline for instance is made more powerful by its resolution, whereas Jaime's - admittedly short - just goes nowhere.
Part of the problem is likely too-high expectations on my part, fueled by time and some reviews. We'll see how I feel when I re-read it.
its bad to hear that we to wait next 6 years :(
This is a very well written review, but I think you're being way too gentle.
The way I see it, there are two types of fans: the ones who love the series so much that turn a blind eye towards its flaws, and the ones who love the series so much they are scandalized by the way in which their high expectancies weren't met.
I wrote a review for ADWD, trying not to fall in any of the two categories above, but failing, there are some painful flaws that I just couldn't ignore:
maybe I was expecting too much, but while I enjoyed reading the book, as I got closer to the end I began to feel quite trepidatious that I was running out of pages and there was so much more that I was expecting to happen before it finished.
I must admit that once I was done, overall there was a feeling of intense disappointment. After slogging through AFFC, I thought ADWD would go some way to restoring my faith in the series, but I was sorely mistaken. I just get the feeling George seems to have lost his way with the most recent two instalments, and is suffering from over-indulgent editors. Either that, or his publishers are intent on milking what has now become a cash cow.
He really needs to get his arse in gear and sort it out, because there was absolutely no reason why AFFC and ADWD couldn't have been streamlined into one book. With a proper ending to boot, and not the crap he came up with here.
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