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.