A Dance with Dragons
George R. R. Martin
If I’m going to be completely honest. I think by this time I’m little weary of George R. R. Martin. This is no fault of the author, nor of his work, but rather of my own nigh obsessive attempt to make it through my reread of all the earlier volumes ofwith no breaks in between. In truth, I was probably in desperate need of a palate cleanser, some literary sherbet if you will, before starting A Dance with Dragons. The sense of fan entitlement regarding Martin’s work is well document (even in song) and the long wait between A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons seemed to drudge up the worst aspects of fandom. In truth when judging reader reactions to A Dance with Dragons it is a little difficult to differentiate between legitimate criticism and misplaced belief that fans are entitled to the product of an author’s creativity.
Hit the jump for a meandering and slightly messy musing on Martin’s latest work.
A Feast for Crows is always a bit unjustly maligned and as I’ve said in the past while I certainly felt disappointment when I first read it my second read through more recently showed it to be another solid read. Its more limited focus in terms of character and scope really let the reader delve into the inner works of a select few “secondary” characters. A Dance with Dragons picks up the story during the same time period of A Feast for Crows, eventually catching up and surpassing that novel. It focuses strongly on the fledgling leaders of Danaerys and Jon Snow.
Danaerys and Jon form Martin’s two-pronged examination of the murky waters that is leadership. As is typical of Martin’s work this examination is one that highlights the shades of grey. Principles are all well and good but what leadership boils down to are decisions and consequences. Both Danaerys and Jon face consequences for choosing to do the right thing and, in both their cases, doing the right thing might not necessarily be surest way to victory. With her staunch opposition to slavery Danaerys maintains the moral high ground but her people, the freed slaves she has chosen to fight for, are the ones who suffer for it. Jon, surrounded by various factions with different world views, consistently angers one party or another with every decision he makes.
In the case of Jon I found his chapters easier to read, his decisions felt right and though he was constantly managing to get on the wrong side of someone he stayed true to the core of who he was throughout. That fact lent his chapters a much more organic feel. Danaerys on the other hand I found slightly more troubling. She has seen a lot and come a long way from bargain chip seen in A Game of Thrones but her sudden indecision and aversion to violence is understandable but considerably frustrating. A Dance with Dragons is the first time we really see Danaerys flinch in the face of anything. Seeing her more human and caring side at war with the more bloody history of her family name is both intensely rewarding and in some ways a disappointment. It really felt like nothing happened in Mereen. There was a lot of hand wringing and talking but it never really felt like anything happened. There was a lot of set-up and maneuvering of characters around Mereen, including the return of Tyrion, but by and large it felt like a whole lot of set-up with very little pay off. Sure it was all solid, often riveting material, but in hindsight nothing really feels particularly significant.
A Dance with Dragons is, on one level, a set up novel. Much like A Feast for Crows maneuvered some of the side characters to the right positions, A Dance with Dragons focuses on getting what are arguable our “main” characters (Jon, Danaerys, Tyrion) closer to where they need to be. If anything my dissatisfaction of this fact might be a more telling sign of a shift in my interests as a reader. I have to wonder, and maybe my reading choices over the last few years bear this out, if my predilection towards massive multi-book epics has waned. Or maybe it’s my aforementioned fatigue having read A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons back to back. I find it likely that at some point in the future, when my energy reserves are back up to a higher level that I will be revisiting A Dance with Dragons.
As much as I enjoyed the return of the big three here I think I rather looked forward to our little sojourns with the more minor players. I’m a sucker for the downtrodden and fallen attempting to rise up and, despicable as he might be, I rather missed Jaime’s point-of-view. Needless to say I was a bit disappointed at his small presence here. I actually really enjoyed the chapter’s from Reek’s point-of-view. He is a character that, along with Jaime, proves Martin has a gift for turning despicable individuals into fascinating and utterly riveting characters. I was particularly fond of the slowly shifting chapter headings for Reek as the novel progressed. Bran makes his return here as well and his chapters provide some of the startling imagery of the novel and play into the increased amount of the magical and the fantastic that appears in this series.
A Dance with Dragons was not quite the satisfying read I hoped it would be. While it saw the return of the series’ most major character its broader scope when compared to A Feast for Crows was more of an abrupt shift than I really expected. For all the accusations that A Feast for Crows is a deviation from the series’ major plot lines taken individually it is a fairly taught read; I’m not sure I feel the same for A Dance with Dragons. Of course, I’m in this for the long haul and Martin is as unpredictable as ever so I’m still looking forward (with absolutely no idea what to expect) for The Winds of Winter.