Over the course of the last few weeks, I have dragged myself through George R. R. Martin’s latest, A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in his Game of Thrones series.
I’m done. No more. I’m not reading any of his books any more.
It’s terrible. Martin has taken the concept of the pot-boiler to an extreme — it’s a novel where nothing happens other than continual seething, roiling turmoil. He whipsaws the reader through a dozen different, complex story lines where characters struggle to survive in a world wrecked by civil war — one other problem is that I’d hit a chapter about some minor character from the previous four books, and struggled to remember who the heck this person is, and why I’m supposed to care — and again, nothing is resolved. Well, not quite: major characters are brutally killed, if they’re male, and graphically and degradingly humiliated into irrelevance if they’re female. I guess that’s a resolution, all right — perhaps the last book will be a lovingly detailed description of a graveyard, draped with naked women mourning?
And all the death and destruction accomplishes nothing. It doesn’t further the plot, it doesn’t change any situations.
There is still a mysterious, supernatural menace lurking beyond the great wall to the North; but don’t worry about them, they do absolutely nothing in the entire book. That’s the problem with the undead: inertia. They just kind of lie there.
The expatriate princess with the dragons was supposed to be a great threat, promising invasion. She decides to hole up in one city and dither with palace intrigues for the whole book, while everything falls apart around her. She takes a lot of baths, though, and I felt like her primary role in Martin’s mind is to provide nude scenes for the HBO serialization. The dragons? Pffft. Random SFX carnage.
The dwarf ping-pongs about from place to place, commenting cynically. We’re supposed to care about what imaginary continent he’s on in this chapter, or what city or boat or troop of rapscallions he finds himself in now. I didn’t.
There’s a war going on, you know, and one of the kings in this multi-sided conflict is marching his army off to attack a castle. In a snowstorm. Which leads to the army being mired down and starving. For the entire last half of the book. Those chapters would have benefited greatly if they’d just been left blank and white (blizzard, get it?)
In his afterword, Martin complains about how his last book “was a bitch. This one was three bitches and a bastard.” I can sympathize. Writing over a thousand pages of dull, dragging, incestuously self-referential, soap-opera style narrative in which nothing happens must have been a torment. I understand he’s committed to writing at least two more of these overblown pop fantasy novels, but I don’t think he’s at all committed to bringing anything to a conclusion. George R. R. Martin has successfully penned himself into a lucrative writerly hell of his own creation. I have a recommendation that would spare him some pain: stop now. Roll around happily in your money, and enjoy a prosperous retirement. It’s not as if anyone expects anything to ever be resolved in your fantasy world, so just ending it now is the same as ending it at book #7. Or book #1, for that matter. I’ve reached an end that is as satisfying as anything I expect from this story, which is not satisfying at all.