A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, # 5)
By: George R R Martin
Published: July 12th 2011 by Bantam
Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Dragons
Source: Personal Kindle Library
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Goodreads description--In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance — beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.
Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys's claim to Westeros forever.
Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone — a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.
From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.
You guys have no idea the amount of relief I feel being able to mark this book as “read”. George R R Martin’s books are MASSIVE. Coming in at 1125 pages, A Dance with Dragons is the 2nd longest book I’ve ever read—2nd only to A Strom of Swords--and will easily be the longest book I read this year. A Feast for Crows was a real struggle for me because not only did it follow my least favorite of all of the characters, but the storyline itself also progressed very slowly. In the end, there were some key things that took place, but man it took a while to get there. I was really concerned about A Dance with Dragons. Even though this book follows characters that I’m more excited about and the book was generally more exciting than the last, it was still slow going. I’ve come to expect specific things from this series, and really what else can you expect from a novel over 1000 pages?
A Dance with Dragons follows Jon, Danearys, Tyrion, Arya, Theon, Ser Barristan, and it also had the occasional chapters from Jamie, Cersei, Victarion, Asha, Bran and others. I realize that just mentioning characters by name can sometimes be a spoiler for this series. One of the things I found annoying at first was the titling of the chapters. I’ve come to expect these books to just clearly state who’s POV we’ll be reading from, but even A Feast for Crows often labeled titles or nicknames rather than first names (ex: “The Prophet”, "The Captain of the Guards", "The Kraken's Daughter"). We have seen this type of chapter titles progress with frequency throughout the series, and while I didn’t count the number of chapters with a basic name title (Jamie) versus a more of a title title (“The Kingslayer”), A Dance with Dragons was filled with this. Often times we could read from the same person under different names/titles. Theon comes to mind. He’s referred to as “Reek”, “The Prince of Winterfell,” and “Theon” for different chapters. Ser Barristan is one I also noticed had multiple chapter titles. So I really feel like this plays on the identity that the character ascribes to themselves, the way others see these characters, and possibly it was just used as a method to throw us off. George R R Martin is like that. *shakes fist* Besides that, these characters just have a million different names over the course of the series. Nicknames, aliases, given names, titles earned, etc. It’s real, but it can be confusing at the same time. Tyrion, Hugor Hill, The Imp. Arya, Arry, Cat of the Canals. And so on.
Speaking of liking to throw us off. George R R Martin is a sneaky one. One thing I’ve learned from his writing is to not take information for granted. If something is not explicitly stated, then I cannot assume anything. Plus the way that information travels in the Seven Kingdoms isn’t always reliable. So if a character wasn’t present for an event, you can’t always take their knowledge as concrete. When I was finished with A Dance with Dragons I had a lot of questions. One event takes place in A Feast for Crows that left us with some very vague knowledge of a certain character’s situation. Well then that character appears in yet again, very vague context, in A Dance with Dragons and so I have to stop and go “Now wait a minute. I thought X-event happened to Y-character. So what’s Y-character doing Z-event for?” And then at the end…”I thought A-character found it’s way to B-character who happens to also be with C-character. Well D-character says they killed C-character, but doesn’t mention B-character, and says they want A-character back.” How is any of this possible? How does it all fit together? What information am I missing? And what information did my little brain try to conjure up and supply for me in order to fillin the gaps that I assumed where things weren’t explicitly stated? See how confusing this can be? BUT that’s also one of the beauties of George R R Martin’s writing.
I was reading A Dance with Dragons very slowly. I would read a chapter or so at a time, but then I would read like 20 other books in the meantime. And I worked my way up to 33% that way. A whole whopping 380 pages. And then my friend Paula got the audiobook from the library and BLAZED through this book. I was left in her dust going “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” And she was saying “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” concerning the ending of the book, but all I could see was how in the world did she finish so fast. I knew I had to get my hands on the audiobook, and once I did, I finished within two weeks. Granted, there’s something to be said about reading a book like this yourself versus hearing someone else read it. The spellings for characters and places are almost impossible to know off hearing alone. And sometimes the names of characters are similar. Osha vs Asha. There are others, but I’m drawing a blank at the moment.
As far as events go, there were several surprises for me in this book. There was one thing that comes up before the 50% mark that I wasn’t expecting at all—another case of taking someone’s word as fact without proof. There was another thing I alluded to above with a character that I thought something specific happened with in A Feast for Crows. Then there was something that wasn’t so much shocking as exciting about the 70% mark. And then two events at the very end. One had me going “George R R Martin, you’re not fooling me! I’m not going to believe that.” And the other had me thinking “Well I don’t care about character-K so much as character-V and event-G.” Plus “how does this play into the future?” I will say that there are definitely some interesting things to come. And I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Fan theories abound. And there are still so many questions unanswered. One of the biggest questions of the series—dating all the way back to book 1—is about who Jon’s mother is. My cousin found an interesting fan-theory on YouTube that you might be curious to check out. There are no spoilers really for A Dance With Dragons but there are spoilers for prior books in the series, mostly there's speculation. I haven’t really checked out any other theories, and some things I’ve had to come to accept that we just may never know what the answer are.
One thing that I’ve pondered back and forth about within this series over the course of the books has to do with their gods. We’ve got “the Old gods” that are typically believed in up North—even beyond the Wall. There’s “the new gods” or “the Seven” typically believed in further South. There’s “the drowned god” of the Iron Islands and the sea. And then there’s “the red god” or “Rh’ollor” that I believe originated across the Narrow Sea. It’s hard for me because I believe in one God. And so I tend to project my faith into my reading. I want ONE of these gods to be real and powerful. As far as I can tell none of these gods have ultimate power. The old gods, the seven, and the drowned god all seem to be inactive and whatever happens, happens. The red god is a bit more confusing. We see Melisandre who has some kind of power. You don’t know how much is sorcery and illusion and how much of it might actually be legit. The red god seems to be the most active, be displaying the most works—Lady Stoneheart anyone?—and prophesies as well. Melissandre’s prophecies always have some truth to them, even if she doesn’t always see their manifestations clearly. And the same goes for the other red priests we have met along the way.
If you’ve stuck with me through this vague and confusing review then bless your heart! It is extremely difficult to discuss this book and this series with someone who hasn’t read it and without spoilers. You never know what key information George R R Martin is going to zero in on. You never know what information you think you know that might actually turn out to be false. And you truly never know what to expect. I won’t say A Dance with Dragons had the level of epic plot twists found in A Strom of Swords--the red wedding—but there were several things that will turn out to be game-changers. I can tell you that much.
As I said, you never know what information George R R Martin is going to pull out and use for moving the series forward, but these are my favorite quotes:
-The only thing more pitiful than a dwarf without a nose is a dwarf without a nose who has no gold.
-“Another. Strong than Tommen, gentler than Stannis, with a better claim than the girl Myrcella. A savior come from across the sea to bind up the wounds of bleeding Westeros.”…”A dragon with three heads.”
-“Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying.”…”I remember the way. I go north to go south, east to go west, back to go forward. And to touch the light I have to pass beneath the shadow.”…”I remember the Undying. Child of three, they called me. Three mounts they promised me, three fires, and three treasons. One for blood and one for gold and one for…”
-“And what lesson can we draw from Volantene history?” “If you want to conquer the world, you best have dragons.”
-“I know that she spent her childhood in exile, impoverished, living on dreams and schemes, running from one city to the next, always fearful, never safe, friendless but for a brother who was by all accounts half mad…and a brother who sold her maidenhood to the Dothraki for the promise of an army. I know that somewhere out upon the grass her dragons hatched, and so did she. I know she is proud. How not? What else was left her but pride? I know she is strong. How not? The Dothraki despise weakness. If Daenerys had been weak, she would have perished with Viserys. I know she is fierce. Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen are proof enough of that. She has crossed the grasslands and the red waste, survived assassins and conspiracies and fell sorceries, grieved for a brother and a husband and a son, trod the cities of the slavers to dust beneath her dainty sandaled feet. …”
-When you have known the kiss of a flaying knife, a laugh loses all its power to hurt you.
-Not all men are meant to dance with dragons.
So much more I could quote. Essentially, these books are pretty epic. The characters are great. You love them. You hate them. You root for them. You hope they get eaten by dragons. The worlds are vivid. You can feel the bone cold of the North. You can feel the grass from the Dothraki grass sea. You can smell the smoke from the dragons’ breath. And the story is one that you can never predict. You will have to wade through some cursing and I did notice that A Dance with Dragons stepped it up graphically than the other books in the series, but there was nothing that I would really run away from. All in all A Dance with Dragons gets 4.5 Stars. Have you read A Dance with Dragons? What did you think? Let me know!