A Dance With Dragons
It is exceptionally, exceptionally hard to write a review of the fifth book in a saga without the use of spoilers, previously I have tried to make my 'A Song Of Ice And Fire' reviews spoiler-free but this time I'm not going to give a 100% guarantee so as they say with the football results, if you don't want to know : look away now.
It took me 2 days to read this book, all 1,034 pages of it. In actual reading time spent, I would say less than 13 hours. It is simply fantastic. Compelling. Gripping. The prologue, usually an irritating affair before we re-engage with our beloved heroes, brings forth a revelation about one of them, which gives you a squeal of fan-joy from the very outset. Then the first POV chapter brings us Tyrion, fan favourite Tyrion, and it becomes clear that what made A Feast For Crows weak was the absence of the witty, wily, dwarf. It is a pleasure to have him back.
We pick up Tyrion on the run from his discovery that his father did not in fact shit gold, now caught up in the machinations of Varys the Spider and Illyrio Mopatis, the man who harboured Viserys and Daenerys in A Game Of Thrones. He is sent on his way with a group of people on a barge, who are not he quickly gathers, who they are pretending to be. Who they are proves to be something of a thrill for the fans, at least for me, as with the revelation of the identity of young sellsword Frog. I heard some reviews say they were unhappy with the Tyrion chapters but I found them highly satisfactory. The TV series Game Of Thrones has however had the impact that I hear Peter Dinklage's dry delivery of Tyrion's dialogue everytime he speaks. But, since Emmy nominated Dinklage was perhaps the best cast actor of the bunch, this is by no means a bad thing.
Tyrion shares the main bulk of the POV chapters alongside Jon Snow and Daenerys. At Castle Black, Jon struggles with the demands that being Lord Commander place upon him, tensions grow between the wildlings and the Night's Watch. Though Jon knows he should not trust the Red Queen Melisandre, nor get involved with the events in the realm, he is manipulated into it and haunted by past actions and the thought of home. I found the Castle Black sections a bit difficult, mainly because they are over populated and a "bunch of names" without much character are hard to care about. This was also a problem but to less of a degree in Meereen where Daenerys Targaryen holds court, though as many characters wonder aloud in the book, I too wondered why she continued to remain there, fighting what is essentially a losing battle. My eventual conclusion was that, almost like in one of Tyrion's cyvasse games, Daenerys essentially remains in Meereen to move other pieces in the game of thrones into position. This, is really a weakness in Book 5, her presence there does not ring true and feels like the exposition device it most likely is, though, at the close of the novel, her POV section ends with a haunting image.
The best bit for me about A Dance With Dragons, was its little unexpected turns. Though the book belongs to Tyrion, Jon and Daenerys, a flick of the page may bring you suddenly to a POV chapter of a character you weren't expecting to see in this book, believing them consigned solely to A Feast For Crows, both books taking place at the same time. When a chapter suddenly appeared unexpectedly featuring a beloved character, I was thrilled, and this happens more than once.
One of the more successful POV's is that of Reek, a character we have met before living a new and utterly tormented life. The characters psychological destruction, sickening exploitation and total submission to his vile master are some of the best written parts of the book.
One of the most disappointing things for me however was that at the end of A Feast For Crows we were left with a true, true, cliffhanger. For the resolution of this cliffhanger to be done with two sentences only and for the continuation of that plot to disappear again entirely til "Next Time", was a massive disappointment and a major anticlimax. But we can't have everything I guess.
Though some may have been disappointed by the scarcity of Bran chapters, I am not their biggest fan and so was grateful for having fewer. The interaction with Reek was a nice touch though. I like the foreshadowing of what will be in the next book: it will clearly contain the mission assigned to Davos. And the epilogue was tremendous. However, what Martin has done as he did equally with a Feast For Crows is he has left us with a cliffhanger, someone is left in mortal peril: will they make it or will they die? I really hope the man doesn't make us wait 6 years to find out.
Martin is a God not just among fantasy writers but writers in general. All hail King George of Westeros 10/10