Contrary to Jo Walton’s prediction, I didn’t love this book. In fact, I didn’t even like it very much.

Much has been made over the long wait for this latest installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series, building it up to the point where actually reading and reviewing it feels a little like being asked to review a unicorn, to lift a phrase from Chuck Klosterman. Much of the discussion leading up to this had to do with whether fans were unreasonable for complaining about the wait, and talked about whether readers had any right to make demands of authors.

Sort of lost in that was the real reason a lot of people were worried about the series, which wasn’t the delay per se, but the manner of it. Specifically, the fact that the last book wasn’t all that good, and that it failed in ways that suggested Martin was losing control of the story, a la Robert Jordan in the mid-to-late part of the Wheel of Time (Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight). The vastly-longer-than-promised delay between books, and rumors of complete re-writes, just stoked the fears that the series was going off the rails in much the same way.

So now this has arrived, and, well, it feels an awful lot like Winter’s Heart or Crossroads of Twilight to me. The senstive should be warned that there may be SPOILERS in what follows below the fold.

So, for the first half of the book, basically nothing happens. In a really irritating fashion, for two of the four primary point-of-view characters– when I flipped a page and saw either “Reek” or “Dany” at the top of a page, it took an effort of will to keep reading. Tyrion wasn’t a whole lot better, but he at least got in some good snarky one-liners between the long stretches of passively sitting around feeling sorry for himself.

The Reek sections were particularly grating, as Martin seemed to have written these for the benefit of readers who felt the villainous Cleganes from the first few books were a little too subtle in their villainy. Far too many pages were spent accomplishing nothing but establishing the Boltons as really, really evil. Which, thanks, I got the point after the first ten or so.

In the second half of the book, the cast expanded and the pace picked up, building to… a bunch of really shameless cliffhangers. There wasn’t a single significant plotline that produced any sense of closure whatsoever– they all just stopped.

OK, that’s not quite fair– one plot does seem to have resolved itself. In an epic confrontation that took place… offstage. Maybe. The next book, in 2017, will presumably go back to show us what really happened in the battle that is only alluded to in a letter, because there isn’t anywhere near enough information given to work it out for ourselves.

On top of that, we have one potentially incredibly significant player who makes his first appearance here, with no prior hint of his existence, and at least two groups of major characters from previous books who are in this book just long enough to remind us that they exist and are doing interesting things that we’re not being told about. And another major group who don’t appear at all.

This book was 1100 richly detailed pages that accomplished essentially nothing. There weren’t even any really good setpieces– the big battles that seemed to be coming didn’t, and the few action scenes that did take place were over way too quickly. The set-up was good, but I can’t help thinking that the payoff would’ve been better if it had been written by Steven Erikson. OK, the names would’ve been sillier, but at least Erikson would’ve managed some sort of epic conclusion.

I wasn’t anticipating the release of this with quite the same intensity that I was those disappointing Robert Jordan books, until the recent build-up when it became clear that the book was really done and going to be available. And now I feel kind of like a sucker for letting myself get caught up in that, because this was a huge disappointment. In pretty much exactly the way that I feared from the last book and the long delay.

Comments

  1. #1 Mu
    July 23, 2011

    Looks like I’m going to continue my Erikson saga (I think I’m on page 8000 or so, but got the remaining 4000 already on the shelf). Come to think of it, I never even finished the last Martin I think – in the first books he couldn’t kill a major character off fast enough, now he seems to be unable to do anything decisive.

  2. #2 Alex Besogonov
    July 23, 2011

    Yep. I started reading “A Dance”, and halfway through the book I broke down and went to Wikipedia to read the plot synopsis. I don’t think I’m going to finish it until the next book arrives (which hopefully will be in about 2 years, not 6).

    However, I’ve stumbled upon Charles Stross’ stories. And now eagerly reading them.

    Oh, and in 3 days the next “Dresden Files” book is going to arrive. And judging from sample chapters it’s going to be interesting.

  3. #3 Dave Smith
    July 23, 2011

    I just finished the book and had pretty much the same reaction. I thought it picked up more at the end, though, so at least I had a better taste in my mouth upon finishing than I did when I was trying to slog through the first half of the book.

    Regarding the big new character: it almost felt like GRRM has been reading fan theories on the Internet and decided to just go with one. There’s been no indication that this character existed before, except for maybe one or two throwaway lines.

    Also, one of the character deaths seemed final, but there’s no way that character is dead with all the build-up he’s gotten. I’m talking about the last death before the Epilogue. If he is, then GRRM really is just a hack making it up as he goes. Because, really? Not cool.

  4. #4 Sam Cook
    July 23, 2011

    Gotta say I agree although I guess (hope) the reason is that Dance is now (again I hope/guess) very much the middle of the story so hopefully the next 2 should be fully of rollar coaster climaxes…. I hope

  5. #5 Andres
    July 23, 2011

    I’m still at 88% of ADwD (and therefore I won’t read your post until I’m finished) but I must say, the feeling I get is that of reading old Entish. Rarely was so little said with so many words.
    I’ll be back after the last 12%.

  6. #6 Miguelito
    July 23, 2011

    The next book, in 2017

    You’re pretty optimistic.

    I’m pretty sure A Dance with Dragons will be the last in the series. In between editing, touring, book signings, and work with the HBO show (including writing episodes), GRRM has little time for writing the next novel. And the more it wanders, the more difficult it is for him to wind up loose threads.

  7. #7 Sherri
    July 24, 2011

    I had stayed away from the series because I figured the last thing I needed was another massive unfinished fantasy series, but with the HBO series coming, I finally decided to at least read the first book. Now, I’ve read all of them, and I was hoping that ADwD would rescue AFfC, that being able to read them both fairly close together as one book would make it more satisfying. Alas, no. I found AFfC got pretty tedious, and ADwD continued the trend, only with even less plot.

    I think he’s lost control of the story. My bet is that this is the last one, that the HBO series will start diverging from the books fairly soon, and that the discipline of a TV series might be our best shot for some kind of resolution to the story.

  8. #8 Rowena
    July 24, 2011

    Agree with Sherri. The dicipline of TV means that all the description and the back-story divergents and the who was related to who – is all tucked away or glossed over.

    With a TV series we get the action and the character development, because that’s what story is.

  9. #9 OChem
    July 24, 2011

    “This book was 1100 richly detailed pages that accomplished essentially nothing.” Nailed it! haha I found this a pretty funny post because you summed up my thoughts exactly.

  10. #10 rob
    July 25, 2011

    dangit. i was looking forward to reading it. maybe now i will wait until it comes out on betamax.

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