Seven save us all, I’ve finished A Dance with Dragons. In the most recent installment of George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, A Dance with Dragons intimidates us all with it’s 900+ pages and tiny text. But if you’ve made it as far as the fifth book, you know as well as I do, a larger book means more things happening. My first impression was that this book was just as large as my favorite book of the series, A Storm of Swords, so that means that this edition could possibly live up to the exciting and jaw dropping nature of it’s predecessor. Following up the relatively short [in terms of ASoIaF] Feast of Crows, A Dance with Dragons brings us back to some more central characters [and more exciting in my humble opinion] as a follow up from the third book.
Even Martin said himself in a forward to the book that A Dance with Dragons first takes us back to the aftermath of A Storm of Swords to follow up some characters left out of Feast for Crows. And at about ¾ of the way in, we would come back to characters that were left in a cliffhanger from Feast for Crows and the story would be in a unison real time. So below is my review of the book as a whole. It was difficult to organize in my head given the complexity of the nature, so hang on for a bumping ride. Enough of the spoiler-free talk. Dare to click ‘more’ for a full blown, spoiler filled, gush fest review of the most recent Song of Ice and Fire book.
In George R.R. Martin’s words, “This one was a bitch”. Writing a review for this complex book is not easy. So many things to consider and so many things to talk about. I’ve essentially broken up this section into parts describing the main characters based on their point of views. Some titles I took directly from Martin himself while others, I witfully fashioned myself. In each section, you’ll find a brief summary of what happened to each character as well as my thoughts on what happened. Feel more than free to discuss with me on some or all points! I look forward to our geek-out.
I apologize for this article is likely full of spelling errors and the like. 4500 words is easy to lose track.
The Mother of Dragons, Queen of Meereen
We were last left with Daenerys saying that she’d stay in the recently conquered Meereen to take a shot at whether or not she could lead a city. Overall, I thought Dany’s arc in this book was boring and confusing. Boring primarily because nothing happens except bureaucratic espionage and confusing because people’s names were so hard to grasp and identify.
From my understanding, in her head, if she could not lead a city, how could she lead an entire kingdom. This is one of the primary reasons she decided to stay in Meereen. That and protect the many children she claimed as she broke the shackles and chains of thousands. Daenerys has had a long trip with this series and we’ve seen her grow from a timid slave to her brother to a fierce Khaleesi to a mother of dragons to a conquerer. In this series, she serves primarily as a queen and a large part of the novel, she deals with the bureaucratic structure of ruling a city. Like her, I became often annoyed with the slimy people trying to take advantage of the situation. It was kind of a disappointment for her to end on such a high note in Storm of Swords and to see her settled down in this segment.
But Dany quickly finds out that ruling is difficult. There is always someone who isn’t pleased and those people can become difficult to deal with. When her own morals clash with what the norms were for old Meereen, old leaders turn bitter and plot against her. She and her advisors learn that conquering is much easier than ruling. She essentially begins fighting shadows in the dark and must balance what her morals are with what’s best for the kingdom. Dany is mature enough to realize that what is best for her city might not be necessarily be best for her so she marries a local to stop the violence in her city and impending war. While I understand what she’s going through, I realized this wasn’t Dany. She took what she wanted in the previous books and came up with clever ways to destroy her foes. To see her rolling over like this was quite the disappointment.
Meanwhile her dragons have become too wild to maintain, so she has shackled them. Well most of them. With two in chains, the third one escapes. My favorite part of Storm of Swords was the fact her dragons actually did stuff, but the fact she chained them up and left them out of the picture was also slightly disappointing.
At least until she opened the slave pit. What was pretty much one of the best parts of the book, the escaped dragon comes back, attracted to the blood and carnage of the fighter’s pit and one of the most epic things in the books happen. She approaches the black beast, whip in hand and tames it to allow her to ride. Her escape sends of a flurry of exciting events and I’m glad that Dany ended on a [mostly] good note. Compared to the rest of the character’s cliffhangers, I believed she had one of the weaker ones as she’s approached by a rival Khalasar in the middle of the Dothraki Sea with her dragon.
The Boy Commander on the Wall Who Knows Nothing
Jon Snow also came down from a very exciting story arc in Storm of Swords. We saw a little bit of him in Feast for Crows, but that was primarily from Sam Tarly’s perspective. Now we’re back and we were able to finally see what it’s like to be Lord Commander of the Wall.
Keeping in mind that he’s only 14-16 [I find it difficult to stop imagining Kit Harington’s 25 year old looks], he’s slapped with a lot of responsibilities and all around shitty people. The decisions he has to make are constantly called into question and it seems all he does is get resentment for technically doing the right thing. However, my absolute favorite part of his entire story arc is when he beheads Janos Slynt. I probably reread that section 3-4 times before moving on. It was absolute gold.
And while his story arc certainly didn’t have as much action as Storm of Swords, his decisions to protect the Wildlings will certainly bring around new stirrings. It was neat to see the turmoil in his head as he balanced and juggled the fate of Westeros, the integrity of the Night’s Watch, and his own morals. He resisted temptation on multiple fronts and it was nice seeing him stick to his guns. Although I admittingly kinda wanted him to take up the name Stark and marry Val. I think they have excellent chemistry.
But it seemingly all caught up with him.
He was betrayed. I truly never saw this coming. Before I even started the series, a friend of mine said he was still reeling over the events of Dance with Dragons. The entire book, I seriously thought Martin would kill of Tyrion. I expected that event to be the event that sent my friend so angry. Never did I expect this character, who we’ve been with since book 1 to die in such a tragic and infuriating manner.
He never even felt the fourth dagger. No. I don’t believe it. Please be alive Jon Snow goddammit, please be alive.
The Imp Across the Sea
Ugh, where do I even begin. Tyrion seriously goes EVERYWHERE in this book. Out of all the characters, I don’t think anyone travels as much as he does. In this entire series, he’s been through the most hands down: The wall, a war prisoner, a clan uniter, Hand of the King, Master of Coin, fugitive, and now he’s become a trading token, a slave, and a sellsword in this book. I seriously don’t know what else he can go through.
Much of Essos is revealed through his eyes. I know other characters described in their eyes what a lot of the cities of Essos looked like, but Tyrion’s perspective is so much fun, it’s easier to grasp what he’s seeing when he puts a little of Tyrion Lannister Wit behind it.
From Magister Illyrion to the Duck Knight to Prince Aegon to Jorah Mormont to slavery to pig riding to sellsword. It’s hard to sum up EVERYTHING he went through. I really don’t think I can without making this article a 5000 word article. So I’m going to leave it up to you guys to leave something for me in the comments so that we can discuss any [or all] aspect(s) of his journey you like.
The Girl Who is No One
Everyone’s hopes and dreams about Arya came true in this book. She’s on her way to becoming a Faceless Man. I considered even changing that to Faceless Woman, but their skill in changing faces might render that argument pointless. We followed up the blind Arya cliffhanger with a beautiful perspective on what blind people have to go through. I absolutely enjoyed reading through her sections as a blind girl. I felt myself feeling everything she went through as she had to adjust for things like using her other senses and such. Martin is such a good writer for me to have been able to feel something as descriptive as this.
But the fun didn’t stop there, when she was given her eyes back, she was given her first assignment. There was a haunting initiation in which how the Faceless men change their faces which description will definitely stay with me for a long time.
The Rightful King of Westeros and the Man Who Will Get Him There
We were introduced to who is possibly the most interesting new character of this book. I was truly taken by surprise with the introduction of Aegon Targaryen, the rightful heir of the Iron Throne of Westeros. And while we meet him first through Tyrion’s eyes, as soon as he separated himself from them, we were able to look at his progress through the eyes of his guide, Jon Connington. Aegon himself seems to be a likable fellow, though a little ambitious. He’s smart and young and I’m glad for once that I’m completely on board with another claimer to the throne.
It was even more neat that his original plan to go to Daenerys to marry her was turned around by Tyrion and instead he made his way to Westeros already with the Golden Company of 10,000 strong. By the end of the book, he’s already landed and captured a castle near Storm’s End.
His guide and teacher Jon Connington, is an honorable knight, though a bit too stoic. What’s more interesting about his is the disease he’s inflicted with and how well Martin describes it. Called Greyscale, it’s a disease that essentially petrifies your entire body slowly. And Connigham’s race to right the boy’s claim before the greyscale claims him will definitely be exciting to look forward to in Winds of Winter.
The Most Unfortunate Soul in Westeros and the Kraken’s Daughter
In the past, villains of this book were ambiguous. Cersei and Jaime Lannister were clear villains in the first books, but when they were given points of views, there was a sense of redemption in seeing how they operated and their own insecurities. However, we’re given the true face of evil through the point of view of Theon Greyjoy also known as Reek for a couple of chapter. I’ve labeled him the most unfortunate soul in Westeros for good reason. Roose Bolton, a seemingly incarnation of evil itself, has done some of the most brutal things imaginable to Theon. And while he certainly was an a@#$$%# for doing some of the things he did in the past, the mind break he goes through is difficult to read at times.
I absolutely loved for the first few chapters were weren’t entirely clear on who this Reek was. The pieces came together by the second or third Reek chapter and I was appalled at how different the narrative changed from Clash of Kings to this one. Poor Theon Greyjoy has developed a sense of Stockholm Syndrome, where he’s become absolutely mind broken by his captor by sheer brutality. Left maimed, toothless, and a mere skeleton of his old self, he wanders around taking orders fear of not death, but more punishment. We’re given a look at Roose Bolton and his monstrosity through Theon’s eyes and this once villain himself became someone semi-worth rooting for. He’s given a small sense of redemption when he finally chooses to do the right thing which means, like Jaime and Cersei, this one time villain might be some-what redeemed.
The other Greyjoy also has a hard time, although maybe not as difficult. Asha, after being rejected from being King of the Iron Islands, heads back to the mainland to sit out her occupation in the North. After a brush with Stannis, she’s taken captive. Her stories weren’t as interesting nor were they as important besides telling us what Stannis’s march is like, so I kind of found myself rushing through her sections. Be sure to tell me anything important I missed, because I probably accidentally skimmed over it.
The Snakes in the Brush
While we got a heavy dose of Dorne in Feast for Crows, we were surprisingly Dorne free in this installment save for a chapter or two [more on Quentyn later]. The follow up to Arianne’s story arc was portrayed though the eyes of Doran Martell’s faithful guard Hotah. Doran and his company treat a Kingsguard who arrived to bring the skull of the man who killed his sister. It’s after he leaves when Doran conspires a plan to overthrow the throne and House Lannister with the cooperation of his daughter Arianne and some of her cousins. I feel as though this served as initial set up for major events to follow in the Winds of Winter. I rather liked this arc given how short it was because House Martell is definitely one of the more interesting and my favorite house to cheer for. I was pretty encaptured with Oberyn Martell in Storm of Swords, so I was more than eager to see what the rest of his family was like. What’s even more interesting is how this group will react with the coming of the alleged rightful king of Westeros arrives.
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