ReviewsA Dance with Dragons and the Five-and-a-Half-Year Itch

I’m back after a two-week break, and it seems appropriate that the first post after my self-imposed sabbatical should focus on George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons.

I have waited for this book for five and a half years. Critics seem to love this book and find it a highly satisfying continuation of the series. There were many things I liked about the book and Martin’s prose is as strong as it ever was (if not stronger), but some parts of the book upset me so much that I momentarily wanted to buy a pet dragon, shout “Dracarys!” and have it burn the book to a crisp.

I guess I should explain. All the spoiler warnings apply.

1. The book suffers from Lord of the Rings Syndrome. A lot of people, myself included, prefer the Lord of the Rings movies to the books because the movies eliminated several hundred pages of hobbits walking around and singing. I would have loved to eliminate half of the chapters in this book because so much of it was hobbits walking around, and instead of singing, they’re eating or pissing or meeting someone else with a name that’s impossible to pronounce, or reflecting on the past, blah blah blah snoooooore.

Maybe my memory is fuzzy, but I seem to recall that things actually happened in the first three books, even amidst the character development. Interesting things. In this book, I could only count on plot development in the Jon and Daenerys chapters.

Actually, come to think of it, the Daenerys chapters didn’t have a ton of plot development. Her story didn’t progress as quickly as it did in the first book. But there was still a sense of dread and fear underlying each one of her chapters that built to a satisfying conclusion. Her last chapter in this book felt like both a proper ending to her arc in ADWD and a promising setup for the last two books.

2. Enough with the rape and cannibalism. I get it. The series is dark. Dark darkity dark dark dark. I would still like to make it through one chapter, just one, where a woman isn’t raped, or threatened to be raped, or someone doesn’t think about raping a woman or how much he enjoyed raping a woman. I understand that times are dark. FIND ANOTHER WAY TO EXPRESS IT. This song is getting repetitive.

That goes double for Tyrion Lannister. I fully sympathize with his bitterness regarding his father, Shae, Jaime, and just about everyone in his life. I also don’t mind that he wants to kill Cersei. I do mind that he gleefully and casually talks about raping her, too. I lost a lot of love for this character who used to be a favorite of mine. I understand that he was on a very dark path in the beginning of the book, but he crawls back on top through more scheming by the end without any reflection or change in his thoughts regarding his siblings, and I’m very uncomfortable with that.

3. “He’s not QUITE dead! He’s getting better!” I have a theory about this book. George R.R. Martin started to believe his own hype after he had the guts to kill Ned Stark in the first book. I’ve never read a book where the author killed off his main character in the first book of the series. But the praise for that decision has gone to his head, where he thinks he can resurrect ANY OTHER character previously thought dead without it being trite and predictable.

Memo to Martin: It’s become trite and predictable.

Let me think of dead characters who have actually stayed dead: Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Tywin Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon (thank GOD)

Dead characters PSYCH JUST KIDDING!: Catelyn Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Davos Seaworth, Bran Stark, Rickon Stark, Theon Greyjoy, Mance Rayder (died and brought back in the SAME BOOK, for crying out loud)

The jury’s still out: Benjen Stark, Sandor Clegane

The final straw for me was the moment Tyrion realized that the Young Griff was actually Aegon Targaryen, the previously-thought-dead son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell. I was probably supposed to have an “OMG!” moment, but instead, I had a “You have got to be fucking KIDDING me!” moment. Seriously? Seriously?

4. Too many characters. I cannot express how much I do NOT give a fuck about the Ironborn, particularly dour, boring-ass Victarion Greyjoy. Even Asha’s chapters made me think, “GET ON WITH IT!” and she used to be the only Greyjoy I liked. This book made me not hate Theon, but I could have done with fewer chapters from his point of view. Quentyn Martell was a nice enough kid and I rather liked him, but his chapters felt like a waste of time considering how quickly he bought the farm. His story could have been told without making him a POV character, or without giving him THREE POV chapters.

The world is just expanding too much and I’d be fine with that if the other worlds were interesting, but again: too much traveling, too much reflection on the past, too much BORING.

5. If Jon Snow is really dead I will burn these books, and if he’s not, it will be cheap. My heart stopped, and broke, and was wrenched from my chest when I saw Jon’s men on the Wall turn around and stab him in the chest. And I would have thrown the book across the room at that point if I didn’t know there was another Daenerys chapter coming up.

There were so many things I wanted to say to Martin after I read that chapter. I wondered if I was on a completely different page from him this entire time, and this whole buildup of Jon being an important character was just a giant red herring. I wondered, “Who the hell else am I supposed to care about if Jon’s dead?” Other than Daenerys, I feel like there’s no one left. The Stark children get more and more shortchanged in each book (Sansa wasn’t even IN this one), I kind of hate Tyrion now, and while I still care about Jaime, Brienne, Sam, and Davos, I have a feeling that they’re all doomed.

Now that I’ve had a few hours to calm down and get over my initial sick reaction to that twist of events (literally sick – that’s how much I love Jon), I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s probably not dead. There was too much foreshadowing about him being Azor Ahai (and Melisandre sure is stupid, for looking right into the flames, expecting to see Stannis but seeing Jon every time instead, and not putting two and two together). His leader/hero journey also parallels Dany’s too closely for me to think that it’s just going to be dropped. There’s too much story left to tell with Jon and Martin tends not to kill off a character unless the story is at an end.

And I won’t deny that the stabbing scene was moving and well-written. Jon calling out for Ghost and thinking, “Stick them with the pointy end,” ripped out my heart. But if I’m wrong, and Jon is really, most sincerely dead, then I have to accept that Martin has a much different view of these characters than I do, and really does think the creepy Boltons and Greyjoys and tedious dragon-seekers are more interesting than the Starks and anyone related to them. (I doubt that’s the case, given that the love for the Stark family seems to be alive and well among the northerners and that seems to be building up to the Starks rising again – I’ve just had my fill of Boltons and Greyjoys.)

If I’m not wrong, and Jon is alive (which seems like the most likely scenario), then this is just a cheap, easy cliffhanger thrown in to create some drama after eight hundred pages of NOTHING HAPPENING. And it wouldn’t bother me half so much if this were, say, the season finale of a TV show and I knew I would have to wait only four months to find answers, but it will likely be another five and a half YEARS.

And I might have just had my fill with Martin playing games with his readers.

This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to A Dance with Dragons and the Five-and-a-Half-Year Itch

  1. Teresa, I’m going to give you permission here and now that if I, as a writer, ever deliver an 800 page opus where nothing happens, you can come find me and knock me in the teeth.

  2. Kimsie says:

    … even george says he has too many cliffhangers in this one. he ran out of pages to get to where he was going… (and I agree, it is CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP to not show Jon being resurrected. Just taht. THAT makes a fucking fantastic cliffhanger — is he AA? Is he still bound to the watch? Will he won’t he? What about fake-arya?)

    • Lady T says:

      I think this book gave textbook examples of awesome cliffhangers AND terrible cliffhangers.

      Awesome cliffhanger: Dany going back to face Khal Jhaqo. OMG! Why did she do it? What’s going to happen? She’s facing one of her mortal enemies! How will he receive her? Will he be so impressed with her dragon that he’ll do what she wants, or will he cause even more trouble?

      Bad cliffhanger: Jon getting stabbed. If he’s dead for real than that’s just TRAUMATIZING and I will not read the last few books. But I’m 95% sure that he will be back, and in which case, snooze. We know he’s not dead. It would be more interesting to give a brief glimpse into his resurrection – is he unJon like Catelyn is unCatelyn? Will he warg into Ghost? Will Melisandre bring him back because the lady’s finally gotten a clue about what her flames mean? Show us how he’ll be back, but leave us guessing about the ramifications until book 6!

      But honestly, I don’t want Jon as unJon, or Jon as Ghost (at least not permanently), or Jon with the personality of Azor Ahai. He needs to be Jon with the personality and memories of Jon with just, like, extra magic powers or something. Jon is my favorite and if this version of him (personality-wise) is gone, then I’m gone too, because I will be too stressed out to read more.

  3. DPulver says:

    Nice review! Agree with you 100% on Jon Snow “death”. I had a very similar reaction. Either this is a cheap ploy, or all the time developing him was a waste. Either way, his fate SHOULD have been shown in this book. The book would have been much stronger if either his death had been confirmed (if it MUST happen for some reason, like as a prelude to breaching the Wall), or his not-quite-death-and-resurrection/escape should have been the fitting conclusion of the book.

    The hobbits-traveling. Yes. It’s WORSE than Lord of the Rings. This is a much longer book than, say, Two Towers… and with less action.

    Here’s the problem. In this book, just about every major character – and a lot of minor ones – begins, ends, or spends a lot of time in prison, as hostages, or in slavery, either literally (Tyrion, Davos, Theon, Cersei, Aisha, even the dragons) or figuratively bound (Arya, Jon by his oaths, Dany literally encircled by enemies and bound by duty)..Those who are free are stuck on boats or ships for lengthy periods, or snowed in by bad weather, or trapped in the wild (Dany later).

    It’s a book about stasis, being trapped, being without choices. Since choice and action is the staple of drama, a book about people stuck in situations where they can’t act is kind of boring.
    (Theon’s chapters, despite the ick factor, are at least interesting in that he ultimately escapes).

    So with every major character stuck in some kind of chains or prison, Martin’s only way to move the plot along is to make up new viewpoint characters who aren’t stuck.

    Now, the book ultimately ends up being about escape – besides Theon, others either are freed or make an effort to break free – but I wonder if it was necessary to make the theme of prison so unrelenting?

  4. Sweetling says:

    I love your blog and your unique take on ASOIAF books.
    This was a spot-on review…especially the Greyjoys!
    Victarion’s POV could pretty much be summed up as:
    Scowl, me Victarion! Me Ironborn! Scowl. Me take “dusky woman” who was already taken by asshat brother! SCOWL! You lie! I kill! Scowl! Take “dusky woman” again and then scowl at her too. Damn I hate my brother even though I’m his bitch, scowl. Who should I throw to the drowned god next? Grrr, Ironborn! Scowl.

  5. The Fool says:

    I rather enjoyed Victarion’s chapters, if only for his ridiculous attempt at sacrificing to three gods at once (burning seven beautiful women in the ocean in order to appease R’hllor, the seven and the drowned god).

    I’d bet you anything that Jon’s not dead, given the Prologue really being about how 1. Jon is a warg and 2. wargs transfer into their animals when they die. The cliffhanger wasn’t anything of the sort .

    I’m certain that Tyrion has absolutely no wish to rape his sister (murder, maybe, but not rape). He knows that Griff and co. have heard his reputation and is playing to what they’ll believe. He never thinks about Cersei again, really.

    Also, what do you mean nothing happened? Aegon has invaded with ten thousand-ish men. Dorne is starting to move more quickly, and is about to be very angry with Daenerys. Daenerys sold everything she fought for away in hopes of securing peace. The Bolton’s are losing their grip on the North. Wyman Manderly killed three Freys and fed them to the Boltons in a pie. The Lannisters are down to a possibly-broken Cersei, and the Tyrells rule all. Tyrion learned exactly how lucky he is and now has a force ready to invade Westeros. Arya performed her first assassination. Bran can now see through the entire lifespan of every single weirwood, and has broken the two laws wargs aren’t supposed to break (Coldfingers likely fed him a corpse, he’s warged into Hodor). And the Iron Bank of Braavos might just have bankrolled Stannis’s claim to the throne. And I left out a few things.

    How is that nearly a thousand pages of nothing?

    • Lady T says:

      How is that nearly a thousand pages of nothing?

      Well, when you explain it THAT way… 😉

      In all seriousness, I agree that there was a lot going on in the book. I wrote this post after devouring the book in two days and I think it just felt like a letdown after built-up expectations. I have a feeling I’ll appreciate it more when I read it again early next year.

      Come to think of it, sometimes it felt like there was too much going on. I know a fair amount of readers predicted that Aegon Targaryen was still alive – I wasn’t one of them, but I didn’t have the “OMG! HE’S STILL ALIVE!” reaction I’m sure Martin was going for. I actually said, “Oh, come on.” It was just one plot twist too many for me. I liked seeing Varys’s involvement in the Aegon plot, but other than that, meh.

      I’m certain that Tyrion has absolutely no wish to rape his sister (murder, maybe, but not rape). He knows that Griff and co. have heard his reputation and is playing to what they’ll believe.

      I’m not certain of that, but I think your theory that he’s just playing up his reputation is a valid one.

      I’d bet you anything that Jon’s not dead, given the Prologue really being about how 1. Jon is a warg and 2. wargs transfer into their animals when they die.

      Oh, I don’t think he is either, but I also don’t want to see wargJon inside of Ghost. I don’t want wargJon, UnJon, or any version of Jon that isn’t the Jon I love. I don’t mind if he *temporarily* wargs into Ghost but I want him whole, or I will be VERY UPSET INDEED.

  6. Ronald says:

    I just found your blog, but I would agree with a lot of what you said regarding DWDs. The amount of dead/undead characters is getting tiresome (your list didn’t even include gregor clegane/robert strong or jaime who seems to be missing presumed dead, but I imagine will pop up again), also the iron islands command an excessive amount of pages for an area filled with such dull characters and lack of significance to the rest of westeros (when theon first met aeron, I don’t recall thinking ‘wow I wish this gloomy preist gets a pov chapter’).

    That said while finding the boltons creepy I was really impressed and how martin could make a character that makes gregor look like a puppy. Ramsay was just so serial killer evil it was hard to read but at the same time I thought he was a good villian, up there with joffrey in the hateable index.

    My main complaint regarding the book was Dany. Her chapters were my favorites throughout the first 3 books, but in this book I began to despise them. Rather than actuatly go to westeros or train her dragons, her chapters consist of a. her realizing governing meereen is hard as they have different customs than her (maybe you shouldn’t be there) b. Her mooning over Daario. I get it she’ s a teenage girl, but I would of thought she would have found someone better than to replace khal drogo with than an illiterate sellsword a blue mustachio (whatever that is), and wears sword hilts of naked women. God I hope he’s on that trebuchet that the yunkai are firing.

  7. *applause*

    That’s all I can say. I AGREE COMPLETELY OMGOMGOMG.

  8. Finn says:

    I know this post is from ages ago but I just found your blog and there was something I wanted to say…
    Lady T, I found your statement that Tyrion’s desire to kill Cersei was acceptable but his wanting to rape her put you off him as a character, somewhat confronting. Practically I can understand you wanting Cersei dead, but you’re making an evaluation of Tyrion’s character, and he seems to be solely motivated by revenge – either he will take pleasure in Cersei’s murder or he will take pleasure in her rape. That only the latter troubles you seems strange to me. I would have thought that murder ranks as a greater violation of the individual, given that it annihilates the individual utterly.

    • Lady T says:

      Short answer: because Cersei has tried to have Tyrion killed several times, and is in fact still trying to have him killed, so I’m not particularly fussed by Tyrion wanting to kill her before she kills him.

      Less-short answer: I find something deeply and particularly disturbing that Tyrion wants to have an orgasm over forcibly fucking his sister before he then kills her, that he wants to violate her on the most personal level before she takes her life. I find it especially disturbing given that he watched his beloved wife raped hundreds of times.

      Wanting to murder someone out of revenge and arguably self-defense is one thing. The fact that he wants to rape her and THEN kill her (and notice it’s not an either/or situation, he wants to do both) crosses the line from revenge to pure sadism. If you find that “confronting,” well, too bad.

      • Finn says:

        For much of the book Tyrion does not even care about his own life and contemplates suicide, so I hardly think that self-defence is a motivating factor (though it would be a reasonable excuse). The only reason he wants to live, particularly at the start, is to inflict pain on Cersei.

        Perhaps you disagree with me about that, so to go beyond the book to the more general issue your comment raised, I suppose what I wanted to know is whether you think that rape for one’s own pleasure is a worse act than murder for one’s own pleasure. As far as I’m concerned, there could be no violation on a more personal level – as you put it – than to knowingly, deliberately and with pleasure and malice, erase the “person” entirely. It’s nothing less than the violation of the person’s right to exist.

        Of course one could think that murder is worse in terms of the result yet still feel that the desire to rape says something worse about the person’s inner character. Is this where you’re coming from?

        • Lady T says:

          I suppose what I wanted to know is whether you think that rape for one’s own pleasure is a worse act than murder for one’s own pleasure.

          I don’t understand why you’re asking me that question at all, or assuming that my visceral, gut reaction to a specific fictional character’s actions in a very specific fictional universe has a direct correlation to my feelings about murder and rape in real life.

          This post is about my reaction to A Dance With Dragons, not a treatise called “Rape vs. Murder: Which is the Worse Crime?”

          • Finn says:

            I only asked that question because that’s what your comment about Tyrion made me think about. Even if your reaction wasn’t the same as your real-world views, I thought it might have some relation to them – that’s why I asked. Given that this is a feminist blog, I thought it might that might be an interesting discussion. But it seems like you don’t want to answer the question, so I’ll leave it be.

Leave a Reply