A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin
Published by HarperCollins
Available in hardback RRP £25.00
WARNING – THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS
The War of the Five Kings is still blighting Westeros, with winter almost upon it the Seven Kingdoms are ill-equipped to cope. In the North, King Stannis Baratheon has beaten the Wildling army, and saved the Nights Watch from destruction, but at a price. He expects the Watch to re-supply him and aid him by granting him castles, something that goes against the Watch’s vows of non-interference. Stannis intends to take the North, and plans an attack on the Bolton’s and Dreadfort. But he has few allies, and those he has are uncertain. Jon Snow, now Lord Commander of the Watch, tries to tread a fine line between appeasing Stannis and keeping true to his vows. But family ties and revenge trouble him and he is uncertain which way his path leads.
Across the Narrow Sea the Imp, Tyrion Lannister, has fled to Pentos after being wrongly accused of killing King Joffry, and rightly killing his Father Tywin. With the help of Illyrio Mopatis he heads south towards Volantis, the plan is for him to join up with Daenerys Targaryen and aid her in re-taking the Iron Throne. Enroute Tyrion encounters someone thought long dead is captured by slavers and must survive on his wits.
Daenerys Targaryen is besieged in Meereen on the shores of Slavers Bay. Surrounds by armies sworn to bring her down and re-instate the slave trade, she finds herself isolated and has to embark on a marriage of convenience in order to survive. Her dragon’s have grown and are becoming dangerous, two she imprisons but Drogon, the biggest, roams free. Prophecies and treachery dog Daenerys’ every move as she tries to keep the piece and avert a war.
In Kings Landing Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell face trial for crimes against the Faith. Events in Dorne mean’s an opening is freed up within the Kingsguard, allowing failed Maester Qyburn to install his silent champion, an eight feet tall warrior encased in plate armour.
The wait is finally over, the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series is upon us, and boy what a book it is. For long time readers, it has been a wait of nearly 11 years to find out what has happened to characters like Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Other characters in the series have only had a five year wait.
Before I get into the review, some background information. Dance is around 1,000 pages long, over half of that covers events that run parallel with events depicted in the previous book, A Feast for Crows; this means the reader steps back in time. It is a little disorientating, when reading the first Jon Snow POV chapter, where we still have Samwell Tarly, Gilly and Maester Aemon at Castle Black, when the reader knows they last saw Sam and Gilly, at the end of Feast, thousands of miles away in Oldtown and Aemon had died enroute. That said, the disorientation only lasts a short while, as within a couple of chapters Sam, Gilly and Aemon have departed Castle Black – as they did at the beginning of Feast – meaning the story carries on without them. This time shift does not really affect the other two main story threads, left out of Feast, covering events with Tyrion and Daenerys as the people surrounding them did not appear in the previous book.
What Martin has attempted to do, with the beginning of Dance, is to correct the messed up timeline, that he created by splitting the story in the first place. It is well documented why he did it, originally Feast and Dance was one book, but it was too big and would be impossible to publish as one volume. So it was split, and Feast was created as the fourth book in the series. Using the first half of Dance to correct is a risk but this does work, by the midway point the reader is passed the point in time where Feast ended, and the reader starts to notice other characters begin to appear.
So that should bring everyone up to speed.
I will start out by pinning my colours to the mast and say this is a great book. It’s by no means perfect, it sometimes scratches at the dizzy heights of fantastic; overall it is great. George RR Martin had a mountain to climb reconciling all the plot threads, character journeys, deaths, betrayals and mysteries. He has managed it, to some extent, but the main thing this book does is set the reader up for the final leg of the story. The book winds down with more cliffhangers than a daytime soap opera, a lot is left undone, a lot unsaid and there is a feeling, deep down in your gut, that you might have been let down a bit too.
Unfortunately though, for me, a lot of the good stuff about this book does not involve the holy trinity of Jon, Daenerys and Tyrion. After the long wait – for some readers 11 years – to see them again, I would have expected their chapters to have pushed the story forward, but not so. Tyrion spends most of his time either drunk or a captive, the reader has to wait until his final two chapters to see the Tyrion of old re-surface, and blag, scheme and talk his way out of trouble. Jon Snow has a slightly worse time, indebted to King Stannis Baratheon; he has to hand over some the Nights Watch’s forts as payment for Stannis’ help in defeating the Wildling army. This does not sit well with his fellow brothers, who feel it is in violation of the Watch’s oath not to become involved in the wars of the realm. When Stannis heads south to war, Jon’s load does not lighten; as he embarks on a course of action that sets him even more at odds with the rest of the Watch.
I’m not sure why half of Daenerys’ chapters are in the book. Whilst she is slowly surrounded by the armies of her enemies, whilst her people are starved and murdered with the walls of Meereen; she sits on her throne and does next to nothing. Her advisors tell her she must fight, use her dragons; be the warrior she has proved she is. But she will not act; instead she fills her time mooning over a mercenary Captain – whom she eventually beds. Her dragons are noticeable in their absence, two of them are imprisoned below the pyramid she has chosen as her palace; the third, and biggest – Drogon – has escaped and roams the Dothraki Sea for prey. Much the same as Tyrion’s chapters, nothing really happens until near the end when Drogon re-appears and some much needed hellfire is released.
Nearly the first half of the book is taken up with these – go nowhere, does nothing – chapters. Which is a little off-putting, numerous times I found myself wishing someone would lash out at something.
But interspaced between these chapters were ones featuring new and returning characters. First off there’s Reek, a prisoner of the bastard Ramsey Snow (now Bolton); a pitiful creature who has been tortured near to madness. Victorian Greyjoy, sailing east to win the hand of Daenerys unaware she is already wed. Ser Barristan Selmy, Queen Daenerys’ Hand and one time Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, gives some insight to the workings of the court and the madness of kings. Prince Quentyn Martell who; like Victorian, also seeks Daenerys’ hand.
There is also a surprise or two thrown in. Griff and Little Griff, a mercenary Captain of the Golden Company and his son; they take Tyrion south with them to meet with Daenerys, and along the way Tyrion learns that she may not be the only Targaryen left alive.
To sum up my thoughts on this book if you’re a sports fan you’ll understand what I’m about to say. Imagine an advert for the clash of the season between United and City, the clash is hyped up, two powerhouses of the game, equally matched, both driven by fiery passion, each fuelled by years of history between them. Then the day of the match comes, everyone is at fever pitch and the whistle blows, its game time. Ninety minutes later you’re sat there wondering what happened, what all the fuss was about. Both teams played a blinder, there was skill, flair, passion and a little blood. But the result was a draw, 0-0, you leave the ground feeling slightly dejected, you’d expected a lot more. But you know next time, when this game is played again, you’ll be there, cheering and screaming for blood. That’s how I felt after reading Dance.