I finished the last instalment of the Song of Ice and Fire Series A Dance with Dragons just the other day and try to benefit from all the events still lingering fresh in my mind. So I’m about to review it to you, if you want it or not. And in case you didn’t know if you wanted it (or not): You do. Of course.
I have mentioned it briefly in my last review of A Feast for Crows: both books were initially intended as one that should have been named A Dance with Dragons, but George R.R. Martin not only found that his concept of starting book 4 with a shift to 5 years later in story time not working to his liking, he also figured the whole thing would be way too long for only one novel. So he split them. Taking 500 pages of the manuscript he promised to deliver book 5 within a year (of 2005) and turns out he didn’t, it took him ‘til fall 2011 until A Dance with Dragons finally was published and fans were not only anticipating but also afraid – afraid of yet another series never coming to an end, especially in the light of the death of James Rigney a.k.a. Robert Jordan who left his epic fantasy series Wheel of Time unfinished, so that now another author (Brandon Sanderson) has to finish it.
This review is intended as a post-reading review. My intention with it is not to make you curious and get you to read it. I expect you have read it and know what is happening in the novel, so if not: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. Because I will talk about the shit that goes down and might spoil the experience for you if you have not yet arrived at the last page of it.
The things I L.O.V.E.D. about it:
The House of Black and White/The Faceless Men
It is indeed a creepy concept to keep the faces of dead people who came to your temple to take their last breath as leather masks, but my oh my, how awesome is this concept at the same time, and how wickedly cool is that temple? I mean, how ridiculously open-minded must a society be to accept a temple in their midst where people can go, drink from a pool full of poisoned water, crawl into some little niche below the statue/whatever symbol of their god of choice and DIE? Ah-mah-zing!!
And to be sure, that is some crazy magic going on right there. There is always the debate around Song of Ice and Fire, if there is too little magic, just the right amount, increasing levels of magic, yadda yadda, prevalent in the books, but this one clearly makes its case for all sorts of magic being permissible within Martin’s fictional universe. Put on the face and it is yours, but beware, so are the memories of the previous face owner. Ouch.
And all them chapters in the House of Black and White inevitably lead to one question: What will become of Arya? I feel like I’m not alone in always having kinda counted on Arya becoming this under-dog super-heroine who’s going to kick major ass and become queen of Westeros or at least Warden of the North in Winterfell or something. But with the path she is on, she could just as well become a master assassin who lost her identity and shifts through the world, looking for a purpose. Which also: Ouch.
Quentyn Martell’s journey
While the Martell saga leaves me kinda cold, so does the character of Quentyn Martell. And actually the whole story of crossing the sea and losing all the friends and how loyal those friends stay and finally making it to Daenerys etc. BUT what I absolutely and unconditionally love about it though is how it ends. This total subversion of the usual hero trope: Him dying a gruesome death. And for his own mistake really, cause just like über-confident princelings usually go, he thinks “yeah, some blood of the dragon, this might work just fine…” and BURN. He does. Where in other stories you’d expect him to come out next chapter walking a dragon on a leash, because whoa! surprise, it actually did work and his princeling-super-qualities kicked in, this story does tell you to suck it, ‘cause the hell no.
His newly introduced POV was a nice insight into the developments around Daenerys’ character, and might I add, even more interesting than Daenerys’ own POV. I love how we get to have a glimpse on Mereen and the undercurrents of Mereenese court life from his perspective and some reality checking on what Daenerys does and thinks and says and what her role in Mereen really is. And of course he totally kicks ass. Duh.
So, Theon Greyjoy is back. And boy is he. Or rather not. Cause he is transformed into this other being, humble, shy, submissive thanks to the wonders of … flaying. It is cruel and horrible and I feel for him, but it’s also a damn cool storyline and one that creeps me out. Fascinated by the quasi love-affair between him and Ramsay in this sado-masochistic relationship where obviously Ramsay has much more need of Theon than Theon of him. Without both of them realizing it.
And I like how deep the submission goes, how deep it has been ingrained into his personality. Crazypants. I also really enjoy to read about his altered appearance thanks to the wonders of torture and general shit happening, right down to his pain when eating because of the smashed teeth. Not because that is what I wish for his character (which I don’t) but because it gives the whole narrative so much more realism than to have him just be a little submissive, get rescued and become a shining prince (he never actually was) again. Does not = me likes.
The snowstorm halting Stannis’ march on Winterfell
While it also makes the plotline come to a halt, the snowstorm chapters are interesting because all of a sudden what seemed to be a series of triumphs for Stannis becomes something that looks like his looming defeat. And by the end of the book, well, it seems he was defeated after all (by the Boltons, yuck) although I don’t buy it and rather think that Ramsey just made that up. However, I think we can all agree, that nobody expects Stannis to survive through to the end of the series and actually make it as the king of Westeros. Sorry, dear, but that just ain’t gon’ happen.
Tyrion’s journey to Volantis
Tyrion in general is of course a grand character, because he’s fun and sharp and such an underdog to root for that it’s not even funny anymore, but in this book I wasn’t entirely feeling all his chapters. The first ones though, especially the passage from Magister Illyrio’s house to Volantis was neat. Like extra neat. Because instead of focusing on what the actions and interactions of the characters in these novels are, it gave some more depth to the world the narrative takes place in. All with a historical sightseeing tour, some thoughts on illness and superstition and the revelation that not all stories fed to kingdoms in the west actually are true, especially when it comes to baby heirs to thrones. This was a neat little journey.
The return of Varys the Spider
Things that I am CONFLICTED about:
Jon Snow is dead
That came as a tremendous shock and I must say … I liked that. I liked what it did to me as a reader and I liked how it grounded the story in reality again, because I did not believe the other guys on the Night’s Watch would put up with his plans. So they stab him and I am shocked and all. But then again, the whole thing feels stale, because it seems very certain that he is going to come back. Either Melisandre will breathe life into him again à la Thoros to Dondarrion or Dondarrion to Catelyn. Or she will do the burn-healing thing like Morroq for Victarion. Or he will continue his existence warg-style in Ghost’s body. Or become a zombie like being like the cold man who escorted Bran to the Three Eyed Crow. Or whatever, but I’d really rather have him stay dead.
I wanted to write “Cersei Redeemed” but she is not really, is she? But good to have her back, though just like Theon, we get to enjoy a more submissive persona now. Not sure if I like it and not sure where that will take us. Frankly, the ending of Dance with Dragons kind of felt like we will not be seeing all too much of her in the future, which would be a pity, cause hate her all you want, Cersei is central to this story, and boy, is her trouble and bullshit fun to read about.
Things I DID NOT LIKE:
Yeah, an exclamation mark, y’all, cause this problem right here is really just me being all whiny and shit. I wanted more Sansa, I wanted more Sam, I wanted more Bran and I especially wanted more Brienne! But hey, we’ll eventually meet up with them again, so this complaint is really just me expressing irrational nonsense. But it needs a let-out, so, there.
Tyrion the slave
While some parts of Tyrion’s journey in the book are really awesome, others are, ermh, not so awesome. I didn’t consciously mind them, but in hindsight I realized how the whole meet-up with Jorah Mormont, the interaction with Penny, his time as a slave and his outsmarting sellswords (again) weren’t actually to my liking. I enjoy the character, and I liked parts of it (like the curiosity cabinet of Yezzan zo Qaggaz), but as a whole I am kinda dissatisfied, and I can’t even really tell you why. Maybe I hoped for another direction for his character? I guess so.
Oh, the Greyjoy family. I can well deal with Asha and
Reek Theon, but the rest of the lot really get on my nerves. Plus, I find that I actually don’t really care about them and their storylines and wonder why I’d be supposed to care about them. Like, what is going to be the significance of Victarion or Aeron in the grand scheme of things? My guess is: none, really. So I just kinda shrug. Oh and yes, I also do not approve of the leverage his newly healed hand gives to R’hllor.
Meets up with Khal Jhaqo’s Khalasar and this one is not pleased (oh btw Missandei? You fucking rule. Rule. RULE!). I was not unhappy about leaving the Dothraki and their depiction behind, not because I didn’t like them per se, but I did not like the racist imagery their portrayal feeds into, but hey, seems we’re at it again. The whole Daenerys gets kidnapped by Drogon and is lost in the wilderness thing feels a little forced. It sort of makes sense, and I appreciate what happens afterwards in Mereen, but it also seems like too convenient a plot device to get her the fuck away from Mereen and do we really have to go from queen to maybe bed-slave of a Khal again? Please no.
In conclusion I was very happy with A Dance with Dragons, although a few developments did not thrill me too much, but so did some in Game of Thrones and look how that has kept me from reading on and loving the shit out of this series. I also have to make honorable mentions of the names of characters who come from the East: all those Ys and Zs and Qs in their name – I just love it. Keep ’em coming.
I dread the prospect to have to wait years and years until the next instalment hits us, but hey, what can I do? Despair? An option that is, true.
Questions remain, however. Like: How much more awesome than before will Brienne be next time we meet her? How long will it take for her to become queen of the world? Will Rickon go supercrazy and slaughter everyone he knows? Will he return as a wight?
And even more pressing: What can we do to ensure that Jon Snow is really dead and remains so? When will Cersei’s crazy bitch-mode kick in full force again? How can we be happy about a novel that is centered around Arya alone and not miss Sam (or Brienne)? When will the final battle with the Others a.k.a. apocalypse finally hit us?
Maybe you have an answer, and if so, feel free to provide it in the comments.
Yes, this is the book I just read.