Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Dance With Dragons

Let's be quick with this right now:  "A Dance With Dragons" is the worst book of "A Song of Ice and Fire".  I know a lot of people consider "A Feast For Crows" to own that dishonorable position, but they're wrong.  "A Feast For Crows" might be slow, disjointed, and clearly inferior to the first three books, but its not a giant tease.  It at least has the good measure to finish up its plot points.  I was fine with the way the events at King's Landing ended up in that book.  Somehow "A Dance with Dragons" is the second-longest book, with over 1000 pages, yet it can't finish anything.

There is no satisfaction to be found at the end of this book.  Rather there's only more hunger.  Because every single plotline ends mostly incomplete you're left with nothing to enjoy.  The main point of this book is two wars, one in the North, one in Essos.  Neither are completed.  The book actually ends just as battle is about to begin on one front, and another battle occurs off-page, and the only possible conclusion we're given is a letter from a character who is untrustworthy to say the least.  These should be great moments, but they're not in this book.  Combine that with the fact that the first 600 pages have basically nothing happen, and you have a book that is miserable.  "A Dance with Dragons" could be part of a great story, merely a lead-up to the final act, but on its own, its nothing.  Cliffhangers, cliffhangers, and more cliffhangers.  Nothing is answered, nothing is gained, one step forward, three steps back.  The worst part is that Martin doesn't write quickly, so we have to wait YEARS AND YEARS for these cliffhangers to be answered.  Only a very cruel cruel author would leave his readers hanging on these plotpoints like this, when the next book probably won't be out for another half a decade, at least.

What this book needed more than anything else was another 200 pages.  You just can't leave the story like this.  In "A Game of Thrones", the book doesn't end with Eddard Stark's execution.  No, it properly continues, so that you know exactly what that execution means.  You know that the next phase of the story has begun.  This book doesn't do that.  It ends on a similarly dark note, but I don't even know if the character in question is even really dead, let alone what that's done to the political situation.  This is a book without an ending, it ends right before the climax.  Right before everything I've been waiting a whole year to happen.  And what that means, is that the next book, "The Winds of Winter", is going to have to do the work that "A Dance With Dragons" put off till later.  So if you think that "A Song of Ice and Fire" will end in two books, you are dreaming.  There is no way in Hell Martin can finish this story up in just two books.  Its hopeless now.

So that's the non-spoiler part of this review.  After this comes the spoilers, and there are a lot.

I am so angry after finishing this book.  I accept that I'm completely insane right now.  What you're about to read is most likely the rantings of a deranged lunatic.  And I wasn't really angry until honestly the last two chapters, which leave things in such a terrible place.  So I need to write, badly.  Basically what I'm doing is taking a mental shit.  I'm backed up with anger, I need to release the valve.  Sorry if you don't like what I write, but know this:  I'm more unhappy than you'll ever be.

"A Dance With Dragons" is like this:  Imagine if in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back", the movie didn't end with Luke Skywalker on the spaceship with Leia.  That scene there showed that the characters had survived the adventure of that movie, and were moving on to the next battle where they would save Han solo.  Its an uplifting moment in a movie that's mostly downers, a great ending, one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite movies.  However, if George R. R. Martin had made "Empire Strikes Back" like "A Dance With Dragons", the movie would ended with Luke getting his hand cut off and the audience watching him fall into the void.  Then the credits roll.  And you're left saying:  "what?  What just happened?  Is he okay?  What about Darth Vader being his father?  He can't die, can he?"  Did Leia and Chewbacca and everybody escape?  Is Han Solo alive?  Well, you don't get to know in 1980, now you have to wait until 1983 when "Return of the Jedi" comes out to learn any of those things.  Its simply is not a way you end an episode of your franchise, because it just pisses people off.  You need some level of closure, or else you didn't actually finish anything.

The main plot of "A Dance With Dragons" is in two places.  One is Slaver's Bay, where a half dozen characters are trying to reach Daenerys Targaryen while she sits around in Meereen acting like an idiot.  The other is in the North, where Stannis and Jon Snow hold the Wall.  Stannis is trying to defeat the Boltons, the sadistic representatives of the Lannisters, and really not doing a great job of it.  Jon is trying to keep the zombies out of the Seven Kingdoms by letting in all the barbarians, and really not doing a good job of it.  Meanwhile, Tyrion, Victarion, Quentyn Martell, and now a guy named Griff are trying to reach Daenerys, but only one person actually makes it.  Pretty much this is a book where everybody fails, everything is worse off than it was before, and we're really no closer to the final conclusion.

Before I go on, I think I should make a list of things that have to happen before this series is over.  That way we can see how little "A Dance With Dragons" has actually accomplished:
  • The Others take down the Wall and invade.
  • Dany reaches Westeros.
  • We find out who Jon Snow's mom is.  And then he does... something.
  • Littlefinger's ultimate plan is revealed.
  • Ahor Azai, the Prince that was Promised, or The Stallion That Will Mount the World is explained.
  • Tyrion does something.
  • Queen Cersei, the Lannisters, the Freys, and the Boltons are defeated.
  • Winter comes.
So far by the end of this book well... Winter came.  That's it.  By the end of "Storm of Swords", Dany was at Meereen, the Wall was up, the Lannisters ruled the land, and the Starks were beaten.  By the end of "Dance With Dragons", pretty much all those things are still true.  Except now there's another faction fighting, because this series needed more factions.  There's Young Griff, or Aegor Targaryen, the son of Rheagar and now another heir to the Iron Throne.

Before I get into Aegor, who is a plot twist that I don't think many people will like, let's get into how little actually is accomplished in this book.

First of all there's Dany at Meereen.  She's decided to sit and rule that city for awhile because... I really don't know why.  Dany has been infected with a disease known as "super stupidity" and everything she does in this book is intensely moronic.  I was screaming at the text, trying to wake this character up from her idiocy.  In the last book, Cersei proved to be an unbelievably bad Queen, basically a female Nero, and I thought it worked.  Cersei is evil, vain, and arrogant, so her character faults take her down.  But I never thought that Dany, really the only hope for Westeros at this point, would turn out to be just as bad.  While Cersei was too evil, Dany is too weak to make the hard decisions.  First Dany locks her dragons away when they eat a child, so her very symbol of power is lost.  Then she allows her enemies to surround her.  Then she marries an douchebag, ignores every bit of good counsel, and even lets in a plague.  Oh, but she does sleep with a sellsword guy with a golden tooth who may or may not actually be Captain Jack Sparrow.  If George R. R. Martin was trying to tear Dany down as a character, he succeeded.  Bravo.

Then, just when it seems that the Meereen plot can't get worse, she is betrayed and has to be saved by one of her dragons.  She flies away.  Now, the entire Meereen plot which already was stalling the entire Song already, is slowed even further because Daenerys is missing.  Its up to Barristan Selmy to keep things running.  And everybody has to wait for Dany to get back, which she never does.  Then the entire Meereen situation ends just as the bad guys are about to attack.  Yes, the book ends WHEN A BATTLE IS BREAKING OUT.  You don't know what happens then, cliffhanger, FIVE YEAR WAIT*.  Its bad enough that we have so much going on so far away from Westeros - the setting for this story, remember it?  But then the author doesn't even conclude the war in this book, now the Meereen War will have to end in "The Winds of Winter".  I'm going to be honestly shocked if Dany even reaches Westeros by the end of the next book.

You know, I don't hate the Meereen situation, but its very existence is hard to justify.  Since Book 1 the whole point of Daenerys was to get back to Westeros.  In this book, she even refuses several options to go home.  It might make sense for Dany as a character to try to save everybody, if that's the case I seriously overestimated her in the early books, whatever.  But everybody whose reading this book knows that Dany can't stay in Meereen, she has to get back eventually, or else her entire plot thread from the beginning is pointless.  So the Meereen situation, by its very nature, is a delay.  GET ON WITH IT.

The worst part, I feel, is that Meereen, I think, was meant to be a convergence point.  This was where Dany was supposed to gather her forces for the final drive to Westeros.  So she'd pick up Tyrion and use his brilliance (he made a great Hand in Book 2).  And she'd get Victarion and his fleet.  Boom, now she can go to Westeros.  However, only one character makes it to Dany, and that's Quentyn Martell.  Quentyn offers Dorne to Daenerys, she refuses him as she's already married a douchebag.  Quentyn later gets his ass killed in what I thought was one of the few storylines that actually worked in this book - because IT HAD AN ENDING.  Tyrion is now waiting outside the walls of Meereen, he never made it.  Victarion is somewhere in the ocean, he never made it.  Even Aegon was supposed to go to Dany originally, but he went to Westeros instead.  So in a sad irony, "Dance With Dragons" does feature the return of the Targaryens to Westeros, only its the wrong Dragon.

Do you have any idea how cool the ending to this book should have been?  You got Victarion out at see with dozens of pirate ships, fighting the slaver fleet.  He's got a horn that can control dragons, he's got a burned supernatural hand.  There's huge armies, there's dragons in the sky, the city burning.  Huge battles, Tyrion manipulating the sellswords.  Barristan leading a hopeless charge.  Then Daenerys arrives, riding her dragon at command of an entire khalasar.  Mongols charge in, explosions, every is on fire.  Move over Helm's Deep, Meereen got you beat.  It should have been AWESOME.  It should have been GLORIOUS!  The biggest most explosive, most ridiculous ending ever!  This should have been the best book of the five!  All that's left is a smolder ruins, but Daenerys remains victorious.  Queen of the dragons, with a ruined city but with a fleet to lead her to Westeros.  NONE OF THIS IS IN THE BOOK.  WAIT FOR THE NEXT ONE.  WAIT FIVE LONG GODDAMN YEARS.

Is George R. R. Martin trolling me now?

Let's talk Aegon, because I gotta wonder.  Aegon is nasty plot twist to begin with.  What made Daenerys special was that she was the last dragon, it was her whole deal.  Now there's another one with what is probably an even better claim to the throne.  I'd like to believe this Aegon kid is a pretender, but who can say?  Its so random to suddenly have another Tagaryen show up out of nowhere.  If he's real, its not good.  If he's fake, its a waste of time.  What does all this mean?  I'd answer you, but FIVE YEAR WAIT.

Next up there's the North.  The evil Boltons hold Jeyne, Sansa's friend, who they are calling "Arya" so that they can rule the North.  They head to Winterfell for the wedding.  Stannis is trying to conquer the North, but the odds are against him.  He does capture Asha Greyjoy, and he leads an army to Winterfell.  But just when you think a battle will start between Stannis and the Boltons, a blizzard stops the story.  A literal diabolus ex machina stops Stannis, and the rest of the story from getting to the point.  Davos Seaworth, meanwhile, is sent to get a lord's allegiance.  He's sent off to find Rikkon about a third of the way through the book, but he never comes back.  What happened to Davos?  FIVE YEAR WAIT.   So you never actually know if Stannis fights the Boltons, or what.  Later on, you get a letter telling us that Stannis is dead, but its from Ramsay Bolton, a seriously evil motherfucker.  Can you trust Ramsay?  He fed his wife her own fingers.  I refuse to believe that this major battle took place off-camera, and that George R. R. Martin would simply replace showing it with a letter.  Because that's bullshit.  Well, FIVE YEAR WAIT, to find out what happened.

Speaking of which, a huge battle in the snow would have been cool too.  "Too bad", says George Martin, "Fuck you, if you want your war now.  Fuck you, if you want your climax.  I need to spend FIVE YEARS writing the next one before you can enjoy that."

Meanwhile, Jon Snow's section is by far the most boring thing ever.  Every chapter he lets in Wildlings, his Crows complain, he lets in more, there's not enough food, its endless.  I feel like I'm reading "The Way of Kings" again with this kid.  Once upon a time, I liked Jon Snow because he had a great Ender Wiggin thing going on:  he's lost that luster now**.  This part of the story is almost as bad as Brienne's very long and very dull search for Arya and Sansa in "Feast", which was really bad because we knew she was searching in the wrong place.  This whole part of the book is so slow, why wasn't it cut down?  Oh, but it gets worse.  When finally Jon decides to ride south, kill the goddamn Boltons in a sea of glory, STAB.  STAB.  STAB.  Jon is dead.  In exactly the last page of Jon's last POV, stab!  Just when there's a chance the plot can do something cool, another diabolus ex machina crashes in and the last hope for a good book is dashed.  Destroyed.  Is Jon alive?  I don't know.  I'd give George R. R. Martin some respect if he actually killed this guy off, but Jon has more than a million ways to get out of it.  The Red Witch can save him, he can turn into Ghost, he can be an Other, Bran can save him because Bran is a tree now, etc. etc. etc.  I don't know what happened, FIVE FUCKING YEAR WAIT.  This is Martin saying "get cozy, motherfucker, I got a convention to go to before I start writing again".

When I say this book needs another 200 pages, I mean it.  George Martin can't leave us with this.  I can't be left drowning with all this emotional weight and uncertainty.  Couldn't he have at least shown how the Stannis vs. Bolton fight went?  Just one little chapter could have settled that periphery business.  This book has so many cliffhangers, its unbelievable.  For example, Jaime gets one chapter when he's led into an ambush by Brienne.  What happened next?  FIVE YEAR WAIT.  Bran becomes a tree.  What does that mean?  WAIT FIVE YEARS.  Can I please get a just a tiny bit of closure?

By the way, what's the point of all these cliffhangers?  I'm going to keep on reading no matter what happens.  I'm too deep in this series to give up, and I think I speak for all the "Song of Ice and Fire" fans when I say that.  There's only one book series that I ever completely ditched, and that's "The Dark Tower".  It took Stephen King spending 600 pages of characters talking around a campfire about wolves and retards in the fifth book for me to give up.  And I am so grateful that I did***.  So Martin, you don't need to keep me on the edge of my seat for five years, you can finish a plotline or two, I won't get bored.  I would have loved this book if you A) had Dany finally burn Meereen to the ground along with her enemies and move on, B) ended the war in the North somehow, and C) told me if Jon was dead or not.  But otherwise, this book is nothing.  Without those answers, I am holding a book of nothing.

Okay, okay, okay, we're going to give positives now.  I've been bitching for a while, my vagina is fully formed at this point.  Let's try to be a bit fair.  I liked the writing, there's that.  It wasn't a bad book, it was just an incomplete one.  The story is as good as ever, and I don't doubt that the final ending will be worth it or that Martin can actually finish the series.  Some people are worried if he's lost control of the narrative, I'm not one of them.  "A Feast For Crows" expanded the cast, but "A Dance With Dragons" seems to actually be controlling the madness.  The story might be stalled, but at least I don't think Martin is lost.  I'm only mad that he's left us in such a shitty place.  That's a dick move.

The new POVs are okay, but Dorne is still the most boring place on Earth.  In "Feast For Crows", I thought the entire Iron Islands business was a waste of time, now I see that's its actually pretty good.  Asha, Victarion, especially Theon, all were great in this.  The Meereen storyline is good, but its too much too far away from the main plot.  I really liked Quentyn in this book, he was a good enough guy that ended up dieing quite horribly.  He got screwed, and that's sad.  But still, good, because his story ended.  Even if Tyrion's story went nowhere, I liked the journey.  I hated Penny, but his trip down the river gave this fantasy world some nice dimension, I thought.

There are a lot of little plotlines in this book that don't actually connect with either the North or Slaver's Bay, but these were oddly the best parts.  Arya's training in the ninja halls is very cool, I can't wait to see how that ends up.  I really hope she doesn't give up her identity though, that would be depressing.  Cersei's naked walk was truly nasty, but now she's back in place and she has Franken-Gregor on her side.  Things are going places in King's Landing.  Still, Martin left the Queen trials up in the air, FIVE YEAR WAIT for that too.  Also, Varys's return is so badass that it almost makes up for all this book's failings.

But the ultimate winner of "Dance With Dragons" is Theon Greyjoy.  His name is Reek, it rhymes with freak.  Those were some cold blooded chapters, some of the best bits of horror I've yet seen.  Bravo, George R. R. Martin, your talent is far from gone.

Also, FREY PIES.  MMM-MM, DELICIOUS!  I want a second helping of that.  Oh yeah.

So, I guess in the end, this book isn't bad, its cruel to the reader.  Everything is up in the air, and there's FIVE YEARS to wait until we can come back to Westeros.  There's a smashing conclusion someplace in this story, in just not in this book, and that's not good.  I want the smashing conclusion, not the build-up.  I wanted a goddamn DANCE WITH DRAGONS!  There is none!  When the fuck is that going to happen?  George R. R. Martin has one job, get the next book out, immediately.  Or, just the first two hundred pages, for free.  Because you didn't finish.  Get to work.




* I'm guessing the wait is five years.  That's how long "Dance With Dragons" and "Feast For Crows" took to be finished.  This is so infuriating that I'm going to make it a refrain.  Its a motto of my dissatisfaction with this fucking book.

** Jon is an idiot, I've decided.  He should have taken Stannis's offer to rule Winterfell, everything would have been better.  Fuck the Night's Watch.  I've wanted him to ditch those losers since Book 1.  Well, too late now, I guess.

** "The Dark Tower" is the story with the worst ending.  There is no ending that is worse.  Nothing compares to how that story ends, it is epic.  Its almost a work of art, its so bad.  I'm in awe of Stephen King's unbelievable failure of imagination there.  Look it up, its hilarious.


  1. The winter that is 'coming' is supposed to be the longest winter in a very long time, with years of darkness, how the hell is that going to occur in two books? answer = it's not.

    Oh and to add insult, Martin has actually got a couple hundred pages for the next book stored away he just didn't use them. The swine.

  2. I also have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Martin's writing style but the descriptions of everything took up a good third of the book. Plus it felt like teasing when he had Tyrion so close but denied the Dany/Tyrion conversation I had been gagging for.

    The events in Feast and Dragons were supposed to take place in a five year gap and remembered later. Unfortunately Martin decided to write the events instead so stretched out the minor events he was originally just going to look back on for a painful two books. He's just toying with you.

  3. Yeah, it really freaked me out how thoroughly Ramsay destroyed Theon. Also, did you take my advice and give Yezzan, the guy who bought Tyrion, the voice of Futurama's Hedonism-Bot?

  4. Twenty bucks says George R.R. Martin kicks the can before he finishes the series, just to piss you off Blue...

  5. @Anon: No problems here. That means that somebody else will finish the series for him. Maybe Brandon Sanderson, who if nothing else is extremely punctual.

    Or I can rest easy knowing that:

    1) Dany conquered Westeros, married Jorah Mormont, and lived happily ever after in glory and wonder.
    2) The Others killed all the bad guys.
    3) Arya became Queen of the Moon.

  6. George has said he doesn't want "some hack" finishing his books, and that he has no notes on the series besides some basic stuff about character names and geography. Basically, everything in the books is what he's written down. His editors and the writers of the television series know some things, and his wife knows some things, but most of the conclusion is all in his head. The only person i could see him allowing to finish it would be Melinda Snodgrass, but I really don't think she'd be interested in continuing her friend's work. Ultimately, if George doesn't grant someone permission to write more books after he dies, it's a fifty-year wait until the story enters the public domain.

    Also, I loved A Dance With Dragons. Sure, a lot of it was a giant tease, but it was still great. I especially loved Jon's last chapter. And Wun Wun. Wun Wun's awesome.

  7. Really someone loved this book... Don't mean to call you out especially since I am not gonna get a log in to leave my name. Anyway, I think this book for the most part can be thrown out. I know you put in some things that you thought were good, here is the very limited list of things I enjoyed.
    Tyrion still can't be denied. How many times is this guy dead, and out wits the whole system.
    Reek, definitely agree on the creepiness factor, done right.
    Jon pt 1. Jon the first half was actually OK. I put this as good as the second half was unreadable. I mean it wasn't even the same character from the other books... I left ghost in my study because its warmer. Yeah f-ing right you did... he is an f-ing direwolf. At least tell me he is looking for food if you want him out of the way so you can get stabbed. Also when did Jon get so slow... stabbed by nights watchmen... he killed a wight. He killed how many others in a blink... you can kill him but don't bs me. Plus we know he is not dead. George has killed of other characters, but unless he wants to write from the red witches perspective, someone has to be at the wall.
    There are a couple other good parts, but the bad is so much more fun to write about.
    Jon snow... see above as the rant started there.
    Weather. Apparently there are blizzards and hurricanes everywhere. I mean look at his map and where ships are going down. Plot done son.
    Davos... I say we put him in situations that make him most uncomfortable to read for the entire book.
    Killed off and half dead characters. Now you are just killing people because you can, not because it makes sense. I respected that about his work. People died but it made sense... not the weather started getting rough or this guy just didn't think he was a good ruler... no there was always more than that.

    Well nice to see people thought it sucked as well. He has half a book to pull me back in but 2.5 bad books and I'm out

  8. Unfortunately you're wrong. It can be finished in two books, two very rushed books with bad pacing and deus ex machinas all over the place. :(

    Which is what I'm afraid of.

  9. After a 1000+ pages felt I'd read only half a book. Is this ever going to end?! Characters just dieing I've come to expect, its unpredictable, and the unpredictable has lost the sting that it use too. "Are they dead are they alive does it matter" My torturer has hardened me. New method please, oh waiting 5 years waiting that will do it. I see. Still a fan. I've got other books too read. The next in the Enders series looks promising 2012.

  10. Book 4 and 5 have been one of the biggest let down's I have ever had the misfortune to read.
    They introduce new characters we don't care about, the Dawnish men, the Ironborn...can we cut their storylines down by, oh say, 70%. And everything across the narrow sea....who cares? I mean, Tyrion and Danerys and Jorah Mormont, thats about all I care about. Each book introduces so much useless fodder that the story is watered down and a lot of us readers don't even care anymore. Jon keeps complaining about the responsibility of being the lord commander, we get it, Jon is constantly experiencing an internal struggle, but I don't even care anymore. Man up Jon, we wanted you to be a Hero, not Hamlet. Jon's storyline has been crippled by his own inaction.
    I would love to see more in the realm of the Children of the forest, Martin's description of those underground layers is creepy but sparse. I was excited to learn more about these dark little elvish people, but no, we get that Bran has amazing abilities, and he does nothing with them, oh wait, he does say "Jon Snow" through Jon's raven, that's about it.
    Arya's story line, also getting better, also abandoned. George Martin has opened a can of worms and I can't even tell if I care anymore. I gave up on Ender when his "body" died, and I'm pretty much done with this series, maybe in five years I'll forget how pissed I was about this, but in the meantime, I'm going to read Dune, I've heard great things.

  11. I agree with the idea that the book was the worst of the series, I'll go farther and just admit it was utter trash. But it didn't need an additional 200 pages to make it better. It needed something other than cliche predictable garbage like Snow being killed off at the last minute (really, his story line for the first three books was there to end so utterly pointlessly? Either his story line was a complete utter waste of time or he isn't actually killed off. Either way, Martin screwed up bad). Not to mention all the "twists" like the new Targaryen (nobody cares, I mean, really, nobody) Daenarys getting pregnant (stupid), Tyrion having no purpose other than to take up pages with his long pointless journey (he didn't progress as a character, or do anything interesting whatsoever), etc. What the book needed was a new author, someone who had a vision for the way the series should have progressed after A Storm of Swords and was still passionate about writing a good story. Martin obviously doesn't care anymore. He talks about he's the kind of author that is analogous to a gardener. He plants the basics and sees where the story grows. Well, if that's the case, all the delicious fruit that was ripe for picking after Storm has rotted on vine. Honestly, at the end of that book I cared about seeing the Freys get there just desert. I cared about what happened to Bran, what sheer awesomeness awaited us when Gregor-enstein came back (talk about a Bran's one chapter, or Jaime's cliffhanger run in with Brienne), but now I won't even bother reading another Martin book. I wish someone else would just pick up from Storm, write two books, and give us something passable. Feast was superior to Dance, the magic still lingered. By the end of Dance, it's hard to care at all.