Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book review: "A Dance with Dragons" by George R. R. Martin

Well, I finally finished reading "A Dance with Dragons", right after read the first four books in "A Song of Ice and Fire" series by George R. R. Martin. I can say that this book and series really wear me out. Since I had a lot of work while reading these books, my sleep and college tasks were suffering; I am quite thankful that I can finally get a good night sleep. Since the last book in "The Wheel of Time" series is coming out sometime after New Year, I was planning to a reread of complete series before it. But I don't think I will be capable of doing that, except if I somehow found myself with few weeks of free time - which is not very probable. So I will probably read only last three books (from "Knife of Dreams" onward). And now, I will be taking a few weeks hiatus of reading. I will watch few anime, maybe read some manga. After this complaints, let me just say that aDwD is a terrific book! Although, when I look back at first three books, I would have never guessed where the events will take us.

Without getting into spoilers (well, I expect that you have read first four books), this book focus on what we expected (since Martin announced it in "A Feast for Crows"): the events of the Wall and those around Daenerys. There is more, actually. First part of the book revolves exclusively around the Wall and the East, focusing on characters like Jon, Daenerys and Tyrion (as we expected it), but also on some new and some old characters that were a surprise to me. And in second part, characters from "A Feast for Crows" reemerge, meaning that the time span of this book reaches after aFfC.

As I said, there will be no spoilers. I liked the plot really much, mostly because it was quite surprising: fast in few places I would expect it to linger longer, while slow in parts that I didn't see lasting more than a chapter or two. This is a long book, almost as "A Storm of Swords", so there is a lot happening. I would say that there is more of the Norths in first parts, while the second is focused on East, especially toward the end. Tyrion's parts were most surprising for me. For some reason, at the beginning I decided that one thing "must" happen to him, so every chapter that this didn't happen in was infuriating to me (but in good way, somehow). Daenerys' POV was also unexpected - I didn't expect her to develop in such way and she felt almost like a stranger to me. But ending brought her to a more familiar track. And Jon's part... Well, somehow his part was most linear, expected and predictable. Not in any way bad, but familiar enough to lull you in. But don't become too relaxed, because you are in for biggest shock and cliffhanger in this complete series so far!!! I this was anybody else, I would have an inkling what is following, but since this is Martin, anything (and really, anything) is possible. Well, I have few theories of my own...

My strongest impression about this book is that it is not a book that will give you fun. Oh, this is a great book, beautifully written, complex and intelligent, no doubt about it. But it is really no fun - it left me weary and tired, and in serious doubt of humanity (as collection of humans) and humanity (a human trait) of George R. R. Martin. "The Riftwar Cycle", by Feist, is my favorite example of books that are not really so good, but are immensely enjoyable and you can have a lot of fun with them. "Malazan Book of the Fallen" is completely different, a big, ultra-complex series full of philosophy and suffering - but it is also an optimistic, enjoyable and funny. "A Dance with Dragons" is neither: it is dark, violent, stark and bloody. I thought that Abercrombie and Morgan are gritty, but Martin surpassed them both. Again, make no mistake, this is a great book. But when you encounter a fun chapter (these mostly involve Tyrion), be glad because of it, because you are in a long read until the next one. I don't think there is a more than few characters for which you can say that their situation improved in this book (I can remember only two): for big majority this book saw them downgraded, killed or jumping from pan to fire.

Another thing I noticed was how East was developed here. Until now, each book would give some of the details (aGoT dothraki, aCoK Quarth, aSoS Slaver's Bay), but this is a first time that we have such encompassed description. Also, I got a feeling that with these parts Martin approached some more common fantasy tropes. Well, at least was my feeling in the beginning, later all my predictions broke on the crags of Martin's imagination. Anyway, setting in the series got a lot broader than before.

I would now write how this book is not really a complete entity, but rather just a part of the big story, but Jo Walton said it better here. Also, I really can't see how Martin plans to finish it in two books.

So in conclusion, I can say that "A Dance with Dragons" brought ASoIaF back to greatness (contrary to "A Feast for Crows") and that is one superb book, although I don't think it will be one of my favorite ones. And remember one thing: from now on, I wouldn't put anything off for conclusion of this series, including the unhappy ending. I can just imagine Martin doing this to us, with laughter and dry-washing hands (just joking).

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