Having just completed A Dance with Dragons, the only thing my brain wants to do is spill a long, rambling blog post about it. So that’s what I’m going to do. I think I can say what I need to say without SPOILERZ, but please forgive me if two or three slip out.
On the whole the book left me satisfied and disappointed in equal parts. Satisfied because, well, it just felt really good to spend some time back in this setting, with these characters. There’s no denying that. I’m one of those dudes who felt even the weaker parts of A Feast for Crows were strong, simply because the emotional investment I have in Westeros and its surrounding continents.
And I spent a lot of time there! The book is a thousand pages plus. I’ve devoted nearly all my spare moments to it since the book hit my Kindle last week, and I only just finished it this morning. I can only imagine Peanut is going to be at it for months.
But I’m disappointed, because I wanted the story to take much longer steps than it did. This book picks up the other half of the characters we left behind in A Storm of Swords, see; Jon and Dany and Tyrion and Bran. It also develops some of the new characters we got in Feast, such as Cersei and the Dornishmen and a whole gaggle of Greyjoys. And, well, in most cases I feel like these storylines stewed for six years (or eleven, in some cases) only to arrive at exactly the place we were expecting. The original plan, to hear GRRM tell it, was to put a five-year jump cut in between Storm and the books after. That ended up not happening, and Feast and Dance grew out of the events that would have transpired. As a result, there are lots of instances where you can look back to Storm, see where a character is going… and then you close Dance and say, yep, I knew that was coming.
Not that that’s a universally bad thing. Sometimes, seeing a story play out just like you’re expecting can be satisfying in its own right. And there were a few twists and turns here I honestly could never have guessed at.
The only reasonable way to really break down one’s thoughts about this book is to do so on a by-character basis, so that’s what I’m going to do. Again, I’ll keep it as spoiler-free as possible, but just knowing who all has chapters in the book can be a spoiler in its own right. So, uh, be wary, I suppose.
Tyrion’s chapters were all over the place. He’s always had this habit of alternating between bad situations he can talk his way out of, and bad situations he can’t. Of all the characters in the series I think Tyrion has changed the least since the opening of the first book — and that’s probably for the best, considering he sprang from those earliest chapters fully-formed. Tyrion’s adventures across the Narrow Sea had a much different flavor to them than when he was gallavanting across Westeros or trying to keep his house of cards together in King’s Landing… but I can’t help but feel like his main job in this book was to brush up against some important plot points without actually affecting them. He sort of trips and stumbles from one plot thread to the next, which I suppose is par for the course for a dwarf in this bitter, hostile world. However, I’m ready to see him retake his mantle as a power player, rather than a rock to be kicked around. I am, however, quite fond of his new girlfriend.
On my first reading of the first three books, I did not like Dany’s chapters. They felt too far removed from what was interesting about the rest of the story; wasted pages which could have been devoted to Jon or Tyrion or Jaime instead. I quite warmed up to her tale on my second reading, though, and was looking forward to her in Dance. The continuation of her exploits in Meereen, however, held few surprises. Her ending was fitting, but I can’t shake the sensation that her story as a whole is one book late. She spent her first book with Drogo and his bloodriders, the next two conquering Slaver’s Bay, and this one ruling Meereen. If she’d taken Meereen at the end of Clash of Kings, and the subsequent events happened during Storm of Swords, the whole package would have been more exciting. When I finished the final Dany chapter in Dance I was not blown away, nor did I exhale with relief; it was more like, “Well, finally, something’s happening!”
Definitely one of the best stories in the book, but of course we already knew that. Like Dany, Jon spends the book becoming accustomed to his new leadership role, and how he uses it to position his pieces where they need to go. And like Dany, he’s spinning a lot of plates. Between the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings, Stannis’s host and the exploits of Ramsay Bolton, everything Jon does is a delicate balance. I was stunned when everyone’s theories about Jon turned out to be wrong — not once in the long years since his final chapter in Storm did I ever hear someone suggest Jon’s story would go in this direction. And yet, looking back on the previous four books, it makes so much sense that I can’t imagine how we all missed it. That mixture of shock and “oh, of course” is something GRRM nailed quite often in Storm, but was sorely missing from Feast. I’m chomping at the bit for my next Jon chapter!
Yawn. Bran’s chapters have always been boring. He spent Game of Thrones whining about being a cripple, and Clash of Kings whining about his dead parents. I honestly don’t think he should have been promoted to POV character until Storm. He only has a couple chapters in Dance, in which his plot finally advanced to the point it’d been threatening to go since his fall from the tower, but not one inch further.
A lot of what Dance does is serves up a detailed look of the continent of Essos from a variety of viewpoints. This is good, because previously the only character who was over there was Dany. I enjoyed seeing the weird, alien worlds beyond the Narrow Sea from behind other eyes, Quentyn’s included, and I enjoyed his tale well enough for what it was. I do have to admit I was rooting for the guy ever since the end of Feast. That said, it didn’t feel like Quent himself had much of a personality; he certainly not the fire and ambition of his sister or some of the other Dornishmen we’ve met. Indeed, I think either of the two Dornish knights would have been more interesting choices, much like how Robb Stark’s story was better served through the eyes of his mother. Good lord, I can’t believe I just said that.
Davos needed more chapters. There’s only half a story here, and the cliffhanger we’re left on is every bit as contrived and obnoxious as Brienne’s from Feast. Well, maybe not quite that bad. Still, Davos is one of my favorite characters, and I was very glad to see that his story was beginning to separate from Stannis’s and become something in its own right. So when he disappeared halfway through the book, I admit I felt cheated.
The story arc that weaves through Theon’s chapters ended up being my favorite in the whole book. We haven’t seen Theon since Clash, where he was an arrogant and over-ambitious fool, worthy of nothing but our contempt. Now he is a man broken in mind and body, wrestling with fear and depression and madness. Theon’s head is a whirlwind of conflicting ideals, and watching him put the pieces back together was very satisfying. If you were to take one character’s chapters and print them as a standalone book, Theon’s would be the best of them. I’ve always been fascinated by stories about tormented souls. I don’t know if I want to see Theon redeemed in the end, or drawn back and broken utterly. Either way, I’m sure it will be a great read when we get there.
Didn’t do anything for me. I can see why his chapters were important, because he is traveling with a person who can (and probably will) end up shaking the whole story to the ground. I can also see why GRRM couldn’t simply use that character as a POV, in this book or any of the previous ones. Griff’s brush with Tyrion served as a fine introduction, though, and after that I think I would have been fine waiting for him and his group to reappear in the POVs of other characters whenever the next book happens to stumble upon them.
I could just cut/paste what I said about Davos. I felt like Asha dropped out of the story just as things were getting interesting for her, and while she’s definitely headed somewhere, every page of her chapters was simply a tease.
I don’t know how I feel about Melisandre’s single chapter. On one hand, it was interesting to get inside the head of a red priest for a change, considering how very otherworldly they are in comparison to the other faiths of Westeros. On the other, though, I feel like she as a character is best observed through the eyes of other characters. I didn’t really want her mysteries solved, is what I’m getting at. I love Bronn and Varys and Littlefinger, too, but it would just be wrong to see what any of them are thinking, you know?
This dude’s chapters were stupid in Feast and they’re still stupid here. He’s only got the one, but still. So far, across the span of two books, nothing has transpired in the kingdom of Dorne that hasn’t directly involved Arianne Martell — a far more interesting character. Why not just declare her the official Dorne POV and have done with it? POV characters are at their best when they have strong opinions about the events they’re observing — and Hotah doesn’t. He’s there to serve Prince Doran. GRRM might as well have given us a tapestry hanging on the prince’s wall.
Utterly pointless, exactly equal to her chapters in Feast. At the end of Storm, everyone knew where Arya was going to end up. Many chapters later, she’s still taking baby steps in that direction. It’s interesting, I suppose, but it’s mostly just filler. Look, we all know Arya is eventually going to come flaring back into the story, Needle sharpened, to kick up a shitstorm of glorious violence. That day is going to be fucking awesome. I feel, though, it would have been more effective if she had simply dropped out of the books after she got on her boat in Storm. We don’t need the Braavosi chapter of her life spelled out for us in excruciating detail.
As my favorite character in the series, I don’t understand why Jaime has his one and only chapter in Dance. Nothing happens. The awesome thing that happens at the end of his plot arc in Feast isn’t explored, and the cliffhanger at the end of his chapter in Dance isn’t resolved. The actual events of his chapter are almost identical to events that happened in Feast even. The whole chapter might as well have just said “Jaime is still here,” full stop. This is a character I think we could waited for the next book to revisit.
Jaime and Cersei were sort of the focal point of Feast, and though they spent most of that book apart the ending of it was intertwined in a very tantalizing way. Unlike Jaime, though, the few extra steps we take in Cersei’s story are actually meaningful and I was glad to have read them. Just… I would have preferred to read them at the end of Feast, I think. Having a King’s Landing chapter shoved in the middle of my book about the worlds beyond the Wall and the Narrow Sea was quite jarring, and I didn’t see the point of it. I will say, though, that I can’t wait to see what comes next for her.
Selmy came away as one of my favorite POVs from the book. It’s impossible to go into much detail without spilling my guts about the story, but the parallels between his situation and Eddard Stark’s are delectable. It was also wonderful to finally see Dany’s world from someone’s perspective other than Dany’s. I’m addicted to this character now, and I hope he’s a mainstay in the next book.
I see why Victarion has chapters, but I feel much the same about him as I do about Griff. I don’t think his story arc is quite important enough that we have to see every stretch of it. Having him pass through the eyes of several other POVs over the course of the book would have been more effective.
So that’s that. See you all in 2018 when Winds of Winter is released!