Fans have been looking forward to this one for a LONG time. A Dance with Dragons completes the story begun six years ago, when A Feast for Crows was published in October, 2005. In Feast, fans were given the full story, but only for half the characters. Fan favorites like Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and Daenarys Targaryen were noticeably missing from the chapters of the book. Martin’s now-infamous claim that Dance would be finished within a year ended up haunting him relentlessly until the day that A Dance with Dragons fell into everyone’s eager hands. A Dance with Dragons not only completes the story of that missing half, but also continues the story forward. In fact, Dance is the largest book in the series, weighing in at 1,040 pages.
So how does this fifth entry in the Song of Ice and Fire series match up to the rest? Read on to find out.
Note: It’s presumed you’ve read the series up to the ending of A Feast for Crows, so if you haven’t, don’t read on.
The Prologue certainly draws comparisons to that in A Game of Thrones, taking place far north of the Wall, and giving us glimpses of the White Walkers. This serves to continue the inexorable march of the undead towards the rest of Westeros. Martin is most certainly taking his time drawing out the inevitable confrontation with the Others, however, and some readers may wonder if he’ll ever be able to complete this saga, much less in the two books he claims remain. Nevertheless, it’s a promising start to the novel.
Finally, after ten long years, fans get new Tyrion material. His story begins perfectly in Dance and we see the Imp wallowing in self-pity and taking careless chances, his life no longer important to him. It doesn’t take long for that attitude to change, with the help of some unlikely allies, and rather unexpected revelations.
Tyrion sees his ups and downs in this novel, and his luck continues to hold, especially near the end. He’s matched up with another dwarf, but where this pairing is going is hard to say. Tyrion’s line that he has a heart for “cripples, bastards and broken things,” is never so apt as in this novel. His story does wander a bit, and he’s not as endearing as in his previous forays, but he’s still very much Tyrion Lannister, and he entertains us nonetheless.
Unfortunately, Daenarys Targaryen’s return after a decade-long hiatus does not go as well as the dwarf’s. She is certainly a willful young woman, but she borders on annoying and insolent throughout the novel. She seems to disregard every piece of advice her advisers give her, always questioning herself, but then stubbornly refusing to reconsider. Though she’s the mother of dragons, we unfortunately see very little of them until the latter parts of the book, which is frustrating, considering how integral they seem they must be to the series.
There are some truly exciting portions of the novel in this book, however; One scene in particular seems to be what fans have been waiting for since the moment the dragons were brought to life in the burning embers of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre. It should bring a chill to readers’ spines, and was perfectly written–leaving the reader wondering about the fate of the character, of course.
Jon arguably has the best plot line in the novel, both fleshing out his character further, as well as one of the most surprising final chapters of the book. Strange how the Starks all seem to have the best stories.
There’s also an early scene where Jon dispenses justice Eddard-style. It’s an unexpectedly welcome scene, not only makes for good reading, but also draws the reader back into the story, which until then founders a little bit.
In A Feast for Crows we learn that Davos is dead. Since Dance takes place during the same timeframe, we get to see his actual situation play out. Without spoiling things, let’s just say that Davos’ parts are rather boring, most of the time, though Martin leaves things sufficiently appropriate for Davos Seaworth.
It’s been 13 years since we last got into the head of Theon Greyjoy, all the way back in the second book of the series, A Clash of Kings, published in 1998. Martin seemingly killed off the young kraken, but readers have heard bits and pieces about him throughout the series. In A Dance with Dragons, fans finally learn the fate of Theon. Theon’s storyline is one of the most interesting of the book, second only to that of Jon Snow.
Bran has a very interesting story in the novel, but one that seems to end much too quickly. His almost feels like a dropped story thread, and fans will wonder what’s happening with him later in the book without ever finding out. This is presumably one of the characters who will see more time in the next entry in the saga.
Quentin Martell is the son of the Prince of Dorne, and fans are given quite a bit of time with this character. Ultimately, his part doesn’t feel that important to the story, and one is left wondering why he is even a part of it. The importance of Dorne’s storyline is becoming more apparent throughout Dance, but it still feels like it’s late to the party.
Still very much in Braavos, Arya was left blind in her last outing. Hers is one of the most involved stories in all of the Ice and Fire saga, and it continues to be no less enveloping in this latest entry. It’s still unclear exactly where her thread is leading her, but fans shouldn’t be disappointed by her brief appearances in Dance.
It’s not very clear how Victarion will ultimately play into the saga, but his parts are not at all dull.
When the book finally catches up to the end of A Feast for Crows readers are reunited with Jamie, and his quest to unite the riverlands. He only appears in one chapter in Dance, but it’s a fantastic one, with a very suitable cliffhanger ending.
Fans will be very pleased with Cersei’s chapters in A Dance with Dragons. The queen has already been brought low, and will sink even further before things are through. Fans may even begin to feel sympathy for her in this round, though they’d be hard-pressed to ever forgive her. Cersei has been the character that fans love to hate, so Dance is all the more shocking for making her seem more human.
Brienne of Tarth
Another character that only appears once, and not as a viewpoint character. Fans won’t get a lot of information about what’s been happening with her, or what her ultimate fate is, but her presence is crucial to the chapter, feels unexpected, and is perfect.
The Red Priestess Melisandre
Readers are welcomed into the mind of Melisandre for the first time in A Dance with Dragons and given a look at what her plans might be. It’s revealed that she’s not infallible, and can doubt herself after all. There are some reasonably surprising events revolving around Melisandre in this novel as well.
Readers have still not seen events from the viewpoint of the truly legitimate King, and after A Dance with Dragons, it’s uncertain if it will ever happen. Indeed, Stannis has a lot to do in this book, with very little to show for it. He appears a few times early in the book, then mostly those that surround him allude to him for the remainder. It’s fitting that readers should spend more time with his subjects than with the King himself, however.
Ser Barristan Selmy
Selmy is still with Daenarys and serves as the sole member of her Queensguard. Throughout the saga, he’s been a bit of a secondary character, but with A Dance with Dragons, he leapfrogs right into major character status. His parts are interesting, treacherous, and fitting for the aged knight. Fans will have much more respect for Ser Barristan before the Dance is through.
Varys the Eunuch
Appears only once, and very briefly, but is the most shocking and enjoyable chapter in the book.
Ultimately, there are a few characters that do not appear in the novel, their fate uncertain.
– Catelyn Stark
– Rickon Stark
– Sansa Stark
– Samwell Tarly
– Peter Baelish (Littlefinger)
A Dance with Dragons does indeed feel much like A Feast for Crows did, though is certainly a better novel; it feels dark and gritty. Winter is most certainly coming, as evidenced by Martin’s use of the weather throughout the book. Once it snows in King’s Landing, it’s quite clear how winter is going to affect events in the series.
Once Dance catches up to the ending of Feast, things move along a little faster, but this book still doesn’t live up to the greatness of A Clash of Kings and the chaos that was A Storm of Swords. There are moments that drag along, and there are characters included that feel unnecessary or confusing. Fortunately, Martin moves the story along nicely in this book, and it truly feels like there’s an end-game coming, though it’s still unclear what exactly that is.
The author has stated that there are at least two more books left in the saga, currently titled The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. Though those titles are intriguing, A Dream of Spring doesn’t sound like the title of a book that would wrap up this amazing series. It seems like in a song of Ice and Fire, things should end in a blazing inferno, and fire should be a part of the title. Mayhaps there will be another entry in the series. Time will tell, of course, but with the delay between these books growing longer, let’s hope not too much time is necessary.
– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown