Jun 9, 2015

[Books] A Dance with Dragons

For the most part I've done my best to keep slightly ahead of the Game of Thrones TV show when it comes to reading the books that the show is based on. I was largely good up until fourth season given they already started to include plot points not covered in A Feast for Crows. And while that didn't really bother me as a TV viewer, it also didn't exactly motivate me to rush to read the next book.

So it was only just as Season 5 of the show was starting that I started to read A Dance with Dragons, and my chances of completing the book before the show got into full gear was not all that feasible, really. But I did my best and at least I've managed to finish the book before the season ended. That must count for something, yes?

I had a fair number of issues with A Feast for Crows since it seemed to focus on a lot of characters that I didn't really care for all that much. The parts of the story that I really wanted to focus on weren't really covered there, and so I had a lot riding on this book instead. And while I got that perspective I was looking for, I think the experience of reading the book as the show was running was a little discombobulating.

Synopsis: A Dance with Dragons is the fifth book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. A popular factoid related to the title of this book is that it was originally meant to be the name of the second book in the original trilogy before it bloated into this massive epic tale. The book is over a thousand pages long.

At the Wall, Jon Snow is now the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and we see the events that led up to his sending Samwell Tarly, Maester Aemon and the wilding girl Gilly off to Oldtown as covered in the last book. He is dealing with Stannis Baratheon and his forces along with the enigmatic priestess Melisandre while also considering striking a deal with the Wildlings in order to augment the Night's Watch forces against the White Walkers.

Tyrion Lannister has been smuggled across the Narrow Sea by Varys and is set on a journey to seek out Daenerys Targaryen and ally with her. Daenerys on the other hand struggles to maintain control of Meereen despite the efforts by a group known as the Sons of the Harpy to disrupt her rule and kill those who support her. We also get glimpses of Cersei's captivity, Arya's training among the Faceless Men and other key moments on both sides of the Narrow Sea.

For the most part a large part of the book is clearly focused on the state of affairs in the North, which includes the Night's Watch efforts to defend the Wall and bring themselves to trust the wildlings along with Stannis Baratheon's efforts to claim the rest of the North. He's primarily opposed by the Boltons, but these adventures also manage to involve Asha Greyjoy, who had escaped to a holding in the North secured during the Greyjoy campaign. Her re-introduction into the story ended up feeling like a really weird side plot that was just thrown in for fun.

And the book as a whole seems to have a lot of similar moments here and there - character updates that feel almost like commercials that only distract from the "primary" action. Of course it's hard to argue at times what might count as "most important" in this epic tale, but there are still moments that felt wrong, or at least not worth devoting a point of view (POV) chapter or two to.

As far as extraneous elements are concerns, I did rather enjoy Tyrion's unusual journey the the little mystery he manages to uncover regarding his traveling companions. This book in particular seems to go out of its way to just how intelligent Tyrion is since he's able to identify strangers based on their armor and such and he's also able to see past subterfuge and piece together the bigger plans that required the subterfuge to begin with.

But beyond the North and Tyrion, the book is more of the same with the plot trudging forward at the pace that Martin has set, which feels like it's slowing down more than I'd like. And as I look back up to the TV screen, I clearly see that the show has ventured into uncharted territory with a number of "new" scenes that have not been covered in the existing fiction. That has nothing to do with the quality of this book, but it is an interesting fact to note at this point.

This installment in the series certainly had more moments of awesome and A Dance with Dragons was a better read than the last book by far. It's not necessarily the best in the series, but it's a solid continuation of the story that includes the characters we're all a bit more interested in. So the book gets a good 3.5 dragons who aren't actually dancing out of a possible 5.

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