Book Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

I waited six years for this book to come out. That’s right, six years.

The reviews were just glowing prior to its release and after having read this book, they make me wonder if any of those reviewers have actually read A Game of Thrones, which is far and away a better novel than A Dance with Dragons can ever hope to be. Still, there is hope. I will not blow smoke up someone’s behind over this novel. If you are a fan of the series, you should read it. This is a climactic piece. There are so many storytelling elements that get put into play here that you will find yourself slogging through chapters that you would normally skip, simply because you know there are pieces to the puzzle inside. Overall, this is a good entry into the series, but I am not going to sit here and tell you that it was the best book I’ve ever read, because simply put, it wasn’t. It also wasn’t the worst. The problem with it isn’t that it’s not a good book.  The problem is that A Dance With Dragons suffers from pacing issues and it fails to recapture the sort of storytelling that had fans clamoring for Martin to finish this book for six years.

I have felt a little sad since A Feast for Crows was released. The book was bland and dull, it had none of the characters I was interested in reading about in it. It ended on a good cliffhanger though and I love to hate a good cliffhanger, but that’s about all it had going for it. I have wondered, since then, if Martin has lost some of his earlier panache. I know that the fans have worn him down terribly because it has taken him so long to produce this promised book that was originally going to end the series, but I don’t think it’s an excuse for a substandard product. It took him six years to write this book, it should be elegant! It should be engaging from page one, and unfortunately, it’s not.

For those of you who do not wish to read spoilers, please skip to the end.

The prologue and early couple of chapters are decent. I loved that the book opened with a frightening scene that introduced us to the cruelty of the Others and I also loved that we were able to catch up with Tyrion, Daenerys and Bran right away, but after that is where the story sort of flops around for a while.  It was hard not to skip ahead. These early chapters are also very slow. I feel that several of the early Jon chapters could have been condensed into one. It would have increased the pacing and made it easier for me to get through the chapters in between. It wasn’t until almost half way through the book that I stopped dreading the chapters from Jon Snow’s point of view. Jon Snow has been a character that has intrigued me from his introduction in A Game of Thrones. His story has been a very sad and poignant one to follow and I have to say that I was more than a little outraged that I slogged my way through all of that political mudslinging to do with Jon and the Wall and the cast of cut throats that he was trying to keep in line only for Martin to kill Jon off at the end of the book. I felt like those chapters were a complete waste of my time. His death was so poorly treated that I wouldn’t have made note of it if I hadn’t been waiting for Jon to get uppity and come down off the wall to save someone. Martin had plenty of time to make Jon’s death a tear jerker or at least create some kind of emotional connection to it with the reader. Instead, I was left thinking, “Oh. Crap. There goes another Stark.” And then I moved on. The chapters with Tyrion are slow to read too, but for Tyrion, that’s actually a good thing. That character plays the long game so you know that while he may be getting taken along for a ride, he is happy to collect whatever crumbs he can along the way and those crumbs will matter later.

Where this book really shines is with the chapters on Daenerys. Her story has always been one with the potential to explode like a powder keg and for those of you that haven’t read it yet, I cannot bring myself to spoil her pages for you. These were written the way I wanted Martin to write and this part of the story gave me that emotional attachment that got me through the boring parts of this book, because Daenerys and her dragons start making a complete spectacle of themselves, just as we had hoped they would do from the day the eggs were gifted to her. I cried and at one point, I got up from the table where I was reading and shouted, “YES!” to no one in particular. If every chapter in this book had been written with this level of care for storytelling, I could give you a glowing review of this novel too.

Sadly, I can’t give you that glowing review. I actually had friends mention to me that they felt that Martin must have hired a ghost writer for the first three books because the quality of the writing went so far down hill for the last two that Martin must have been forced to write them himself, which was why it was taking so long for them to get done. It’s clear to me why those thoughts cross people’s minds. Martin’s writing is definitely not what it was. I hope that it will improve with The Winds of Winter and that maybe this was just a place where Martin was telling the pieces of the story that he had to tell and perhaps not the ones that he wanted to tell. Writing climaxes and combats and of maidens and magic is so much more intriguing to a writer than laying out some boring setting and putting down bread crumbs. Much like you, writers also want to know how it ends. I have been there so many times with my own writing that I find it hard to blame Martin for having a book that was just okay. He’s already given me three amazing works to enjoy, somewhere along the line, some of the works in this series had to be not quite as good as the others. I definitely think we’re in that place.