Sep 2 2011 10:30am

Much and More: A Spoiler Review of George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons

A Dance With Dragons has been out for ages now, more than a month, and I’ve read it twice and I’m hoping everyone else has had the chance to read it too. The fact that it’s number one on bestseller lists implies that people have, but the fact that it’s still number one suggests that some people may not have had time to read it yet. (What have they been doing since July 12th?) My non-spoiler review is here, but below the cut are spoilers for all five books of A Song of Ice and Fire.

So how does what we’ve learned now change what we knew before?

Plots and pieces

Most importantly, we now know what Varys and Magister Illyrio were up to all this time. Aegon came as a complete surprise to me, but it makes perfect sense. They’ve been raising him to be a perfect prince, and they gave Daenerys the dragon eggs. They have been consistent in their aims since Arya overheard their plotting in A Game of Thrones, but with the kind of mixed success you have in fiendishly complicated plots when people are in the equation.

I liked Griff as a point of view, and I’m interested in seeing where all of that is going. (Nowhere fast? Those grey fingers — but that just makes it cooler. He has nothing to lose, and he has put his whole life into Aegon.) I like the way there are patterns and repetitions here with attacking Storms End that go right back to the beginning.

Then there’s Bran finding the Children of the Forest and learning to be a greenseer. This is pretty much precisely what I expected, though the weirwood roots are extra cool.

I was thrilled by Winter arriving, the white raven right at the end — I was so excited when I saw that I could barely keep it to myself. This was the one thing I most wanted to put in the original review.

The Cersei bit was really just a conclusion to all of the Cersei stuff in FfC, and it would have been better there. On my re-read I found myself wanting to do the thing Martin said we could do and carefully detatch all the chapters and resew them to make one book. However, the actual Cersei chapters here are great. And there’s also a lot of this that is looking forward to the next volume — “Robert Strong”, and she has done her walk but not had her trial.

And Wyman Manderley, hero! Who would have guessed! Good old Davos, and finally a bit of payback for the Red Wedding.

Where do whores go?

Tyrion’s thread surprised me, because I was expecting plotting in the Free Cities, not a chase to Meereen and back. I was astonished when Penny showed up again, but I thought all of that worked really well. It’s notable how often Tyrion is imprisoned and escapes throughout the series — from the sky cells to King’s Landing and now Volantis and Meereen. It’s becoming a habit. Tyrion remains haunted by the murder of his father and the memory of Tysha. But I like how he came out so well, talking his way out of trouble from one end of the world to the other, with the occasional instance where it really doesn’t work. I found the Tyrion thread delightful and entirely satisfying. I’m pretty much going to like any book that has Tyrion in.

If I look back, I am lost

The whole Meereen thing was the thread I cared about least, though I thought it was much better done here than in A Storm of Swords. I also liked having Barristan Selmy’s point of view. And I did like the end, Dany flying and finding some Dothraki. But can we get to Westeros soon? Still, with everyone else heading off towards her and seeing the disruption of world trade around the world it felt better integrated. Nice to finally have useful maps too. I enjoyed this more on my second read when I knew where it was going. I think it has quite a satisfying shape. But I want her to come back to Westeros and use the dragons against the Others.

And I loved having Barristan Selmy’s point of view, and him trying to be Hand, in the same way we’ve seen people in every book struggling to be Hands.

The Dornish connection

Only by making a strong effort can I bring myself to care about Dorne in the slightest. All the Dornish stuff bored me in A Feast for Crows, and I’d rather be without it here too. However, Quentyn going off to woo Daenerys is better, and especially when it doesn’t work. I suspect that if the Dornish stuff in FfC had been spread out more with what’s here it would all have worked better for me — this is the main issue with the pacing resulting from splitting the two books.

So, Quentyn, Meereen, dragons — pretty good. The whole rest of Dorne as it connects on to FfC, still blah.

You know nothing, Jon Snow

I loved the Jon thread right up to the end where I felt I’d been handed a big dose of artificial tension. I really liked the way he was getting everyone on the right side of the Wall so they wouldn’t have to fight them as undead, and I loved the clever thing with the Iron Bank, and Stannis, and Melisandre and everything. I thought this was all absolutely terrific right up to the end, where he is stabbed and — dead or alive. Wait for the next volume to find out! It felt like cheating. Do I believe Jon is absolutely and utterly dead? Not for a picosecond. It’s possible he’s dead and alive in a second life in Ghost — what was the prologue for if not that? It’s possible that WunWun is there just to rescue him and he’s alive and wounded, maybe even alive and seriously mashed up like Bran. After all that setup with his Targaryen birth and everything, he can’t die off the page. But the worst thing is that I don’t have any doubt that he’s alive — and this is bad. One of the good things about this series is Martin not being afraid to kill off characters, from Lady onwards. 

However, Melisandre is there now to be a point of view on the Wall if he is actually dead. (Nah.) And it fits thematically with the epilogue and Kevan Lannister’s death. I very much liked her vision of not-Arya and what came of that, both at Winterfell and on the Wall.

You have to remember your name.

After A Clash of Kings, I was all ready to have Theon point of view chapters which consisted of nothing but “Ow” for pages on end. I was therefore delighted to see him so broken and miserable and flayed here — which isn’t a very nice thing about me, but Theon really deserved it. However, Martin is as always a genius at getting me to sympathise with someone once he puts me in their head, and even though I don’t hate Theon any less, he’s really not as bad as the Bastard of Bolton and so I’m glad he remembered his name by the end of the book. And I’m very glad he rescued poor silly Jeyne Poole.

Valar Morghulis

Arya is only blind to learn more, as I knew for the last five years — more with the artificial tension, there’s enough real tension without that. I like the few chapters she gets here of more ninja assassin training. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them and I wonder where her character arc is going. It’s a terrific description of the way she’s losing her self-identification. She remains one of my favourite characters as she has been ever since “stick them with the pointy end”.

And in conclusion

My first read of the book happened very rapidly, because I had to review it and I had a very small time window, so I was gulping it at top speed. My second reading was much more leisurely — it happened on the train home from Reno. I kept looking up at scenery, and also falling asleep and waking up and reading more and falling asleep again. (I also wrote this post several times in my sleep. If I’ve left things out, that is why.)  So I read it quite slowly and thought about it a lot. On reflection... yes, I still love it.

But I think there’s a way in which a series is a different entity from a novel, as a novel is from a short story. The first three volumes of this series work as novels, FfC and DwD don’t really do that, or rather they do when considered together — there are a lot of parallels you can’t see without both books. Dany and Cersei and Jon and Doran Martell are all trying different ways of preserving their lands, and they are much more interesting contrasts when you look at them together. But the pacing is screwed up across the two volumes. Dany has an arc here, Tyrion does, but Cersei and Arya just have continuation, and the one Jaime chapter just makes you wonder what it’s doing there. The same goes for Asha and Victarion.

There’s a way in which this huge object isn’t really a novel, it’s a... a chunk. As a chunk, it’s satisfying. It reaches back to what has come before, and it reaches forward to what isn’t there yet and shows some satisfying signs of coming towards a conclusion. Winter is coming, and so is the endgame. It’s not really a novel though — I’ve had to resort to talking about it in its threads. I think this series is best considered as a series, as one whole gigantic behemoth.

More soon, maybe?

My husband believes that now Martin has got unstuck he will stay unstuck and produce the rest fairly rapidly. I asked George about this theory at Worldcon, and he expressed a hope that it was correct, a hope that I’m sure we can all fervently share.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

Jim Kiley
1. Jim Kiley
I really feel like this book and AFFC are just... interstitial. George said that he'd originally started writing AFFC as "five years later" (or N years later, I don't precisely recall) but found himself writing too many flashbacks. So (he has said) he scrapped what he had and wrote AFFC (and ADWD) as just ordinary-perspective novels.

But when reading AFFC and ADWD I feel like they're just serving the purpose of moving characters into the correct places for the start of the 6th book. I don't know, it's sort of undefinable, but I don't feel like the characters are entirely acting of their own volition. I enjoyed parts of both books but they felt too much like setup.

That said, ASOS remains one of my favorite fantasy novels. If my interpretation is right, and the "moving pieces around the board" parts of AFFC and ADWD are done, then I expect to see the 6th book really take off.
Jim Kiley
2. mochabean
Thanks so much for this -- I agree viewing it as a chunk makes it work. And thanks to the terrific Name of the Wind discussions ongoing here when I was reading ADWD, Theon crying "you have to remember your name" had extra resonance, so thanks for that as well. I really enjoyed the Asha POV chapters, much more than I thought I would, so I am looking forward to seeing how she gets out of the snowy woods. I am thinking she and Stannis may be the first epic fantasy characters saved by bankers.
Chris Palmer
3. cmpalmer
The Children of the Forest part was pretty much what I was expecting. The only part I didn't anticipate was tied to the weirwood roots as well. From the very first book, we've heard that the northerners believed that everything important should be "witnessed" by the weirwoods - oaths, marriages, etc. Now we learn that this wasn't superstition or tradition at all since the weirwood "network" serves as a recording mechanism of sorts so that oaths sworn in a Godswood don't just rely on word of mouth or forgeable documents. I suspect the verification of Jon's parentage and maybe a few more secrets to be revealed and verified through the weirwood network. It also reminded me a bit of the Soldier's Son trilogy by Robin Hobb.

I think there is at least a small chance that Jon will become what Coldhands apparently is - a wight with his human "soul" returned by virtue of it being temporarily lodged in Ghost.
Rob Munnelly
4. RobMRobM
I loved several of the plot lines (Jon's and Bran's in particular). To me, however, the best part of ADWD were the many puzzles buried into the text (is Aegon real or the mummer's dragon - and, if fake, who is he?; is Jon going to be Azor Ahai and what does that mean for him?; missing Freys; where's Rickon; who is father of Ashara's stillborn baby - and was it really stillborn or was that a tale invented by Varys?; is Septa Lemore someone we should know?; how will Jon be saved and what will it mean for him going forward? what really happened to Stannis' army; where's Euron and what strings does he have tied to Victarion? who is the Harpy? is there really a rule/guideline that dragons will only follow those with Targ blood and, if so, is it really possible Tyrion is the son of Mad King Aerys -or is there more Targ in the Lannister line? And, my favorite - can Bran actually use his powers to influence things in the past - Bryden says no but I'm strongly suspicious that Bran's sophisticated reaching out and unlocking Jon's third eye in ACOK was done by future Bran rather than newbie warg-only ACOK Bran. Lots of fun all around.

Anthony Pero
5. anthonypero
I think you're right. As novels go, I think they are horrible, separately... I'm not sure they are all that great together, either. Not enough resolution. This is in contrast to the first three, which were fantastic novels in their own right. But these... not so much. And it's probably because of the five years he feels he needs to age the characters to get them to do what he needs them to do. As GRRM said a number of times in interviews, he tried starting the story for ADwD five years in the future, but need to tell too much backstory to make it work... this is what we got in those two volumes, I'm thinking... a bunch of backstory that was never meant to happen on screen in the original concept. But the original concept didn't work without us knowing about this stuff...

I have hope that the next two (or three) will be stronger.
Anthony Pero
6. anthonypero
I'm also convinced that Aegon is the mummer's dragon... but that doesn't mean he's not R's son. I think he's a real Targaryen, and a real Dragon. Like other's, I think the mummer in the prophecy refers to Varys, not the Dragon. He's Varys Dragon, i.e., the Mummer's Dragon. He belongs to Varys.
Jim Kiley
7. I can't think of an alias
What you have in DwD is the best and worst of Martin. This and AFFC suffer from GRRM having lost control of his story. To quote Tolkien "it grew in the telling". Because GRRM is such a goo d writer, we have stayed with it and enjoyed it, but let's face it, this becoming bigger than even WOT.

I hope he can bring it home, but I am not optimistic. Instead of tightening and converging plot lines, we get totally new characters like Griff and Aegon. Do we really think that he can finish all of this in two books? Bran, Jamie and Arya's stories barely advanced and there are countless other plot threads to resolve. Look at the list of questions in @4.

I'll be old and grey by the time Sanderson gets hired to finish A Song of Ice and Fire.
Jim Kiley
8. Maik H
Hi, and thanks for this Return of the Son of the Dance of Dragons Review!

Like you, I thought that the Danaerys among the foreigners storyline was not exactly the highpoint of this or any of the previous book, but it helped me to understand one of the things I love about this series: Martin takes the traditional recipees of fairy tales and fantasy books and then asks the question: Now what would really happen?

For Danaerys, the Dragon Princess at the head of an army of freed slaves, it’s the discovery that neither dragons nor army are easily handled commodities, as the Young Prince hailing to the side of that Princess along with his adventurous crew also finds out. But there are more examples of this:
- the honest and naive hero confronting an intrigue-ridden court, which does not exactly come out as a Mr. Stark goes to King’s Landing story is supposed to
- the young knight marries for love and not for politics, also not an unqualified success story here

The whole Slaver bay story fell a bit flat for me in spite of being a very strong example of this. A possible reason for this might be the lack of world-building depth coupled with the lack of a readily recognizable archetype: Westeros firm connection to medieval England provides the reader with a lot of implied knowledge about architecture, clothing, behaviour, food and so on. On top of that, Martin has lovingly crafted the backstories of all the characters houses back to the nth generation, or at least is skillful enough to make me feel that he did.

In contrast, Meereen is both alien and comparatively underdeveloped, which could work nicely as a backdrop for a Sinbad adventure story (as is demonstrated by Tyrion’s travels, where I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery), but fails as a setting for courtly intrigue. The political maneuvering of understandable characters with interestingly intertwined family histories can be breathtakingly thrilling, but it is hard to care about folks with funny names and Babylon 5 hairdos, especially when we can’t wait for the story and for our heroine to leave for her real destiny.

But even if we charitably assume that I’ve correctly identified why this part of the book is a bit of a failure, I can’t for the life of me think of any way that Martin could have made it succeed. So on the whole, coming to grips with this heightened my admiration for him as a writer, which is of course helped by Dance of Dragons being an excellent book overall.
Jim Kiley
9. Hammerlock
The funny bit here is that for someone who loves offing prominent characters as much as Martin seems to, he's left Jon Snow several means of continuing on past death.
-Skinchanger method: least likely. For one, it would only be temporary, and his sentience would erode after a few weeks.
-Wunwun intervention/laid up for a while: Jon lives, but has to recover from acute steel poisoning. May or may not still be with the Watch--could reopen the King in the North with Jon as heir.
-Melisandre: Most likely if Jon actually kicks it. You have a powerful Red Priestess conveniently within 100 yards of a major character to administer mouth-to-mouth-to-fire resurrection. It'd be kinda cheap to see this after Cat's return (are all the Starks gonna be zombies??) but it would tie Jon to Mel and create an interesting twist for Winter.
Rob Munnelly
10. RobMRobM
Let me say one thing about the novel as a whole - I enjoyed it and I absolutely don't believe that GRRM has lost control of the plot. He is moving the pieces around with full control of where they are going. The defect that prevents this from being at the AGOT or ASOS level is that he couldn't pull off the usual satisfying big finish - which doesn't matter in the series as a whole but does matter for enjoyment of this particular book. I'm convinced that with one or two more plot resolutions (especially Tyrion meeting up with Dany or Arya leaving the FM to find her destiny), we'd love the book with virtually no reservations.

Jim Kiley
11. Lsana
I definitely found this book much less satisfying than the previous books. I think there are two big reasons for that:

1. The plotline I have always been most interested in is the "game of thrones," the politics of King's Landing and the manipulations of the various power players. The "great magical threat that will be defeated by the chosen one" plots (ie Jon and Dany) have always struck me as much weaker. Therefore, I'm naturally going to have less love for a book where the focus is far away from King's Landing.

2. The @#$@#! boats. I remember the exact moment I fell in love with ASOIAF: Catelyn decides she wants to go to King's Landing, and the next time we see her, she's stepping off the boat in King's Landing. For some reason, despite all the traditions of fantasy, we didn't feel the need to track every one of her steps from Winterfell to the White Harbor, and then every stroak of the oars from White Harbor to King's Landing. That's the moment I realized that this was a story of adventure and intrigue rather than a travel guide.

In this book, by contrast, it seems every one is traveling. Tyrion, Quentyn, and Victarion all spend most of their time trying to get to Dany, and only Quentyn gets any payoff. Asha spends pretty much all her time being dragged around the North. Griff spends the entire book traveling. Davos and Jaime are both traveling. Even Dany, who spent most of the book in one spot, ends it by wandering around the Dothraki Sea. I have always hated the fantasy trope of the characters wandering around who never seem to get to their goal, and this book had that in spades.

What I did like about it:

1. Quentyn. I think Dorne has always been my favorite of the seven kingdoms, I like Quentyn as a character, and I was rooting for him despite the fact that I've been pretty sure that he had "Dragon Chow" tattooed on his forehead ever since we first learned of him back in AFFC. I certainly understand those who thought his chapters served no purpose, but I liked them anyway. I remember all those fairy tales about the Princess who would only marry a man who completed an impossible task, 99 Princes tried and died, and finally the 100th succeeded and married her. It's just like GRRM to tell that story from the perspective of Prince 97.

2. Manderly. Go, Fat Man! Although I do find it somewhat disturbing that what would be a Moral Event Horizon crossing in any other series is here a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
Jim Kiley
12. Jim Kiley
What I liked about Wyman Manderly is that up until this point there has been a very strong correlation between being blobbo grosso fatto and being morally weak. Manderly turns that on its head and it is about time.
Jim Kiley
13. Lsana

I don't think that works. The idea of the "mummer's dragon" comes from Dany's vision in the House of the Undying where she sees a dragon made of cloth and held up on poles; in other words, a dragon that is obviously fake. The phrase "mummer's dragon" to describe this comes from Dany, not any of the prophesies.


I think I'm with you. I've started to calculate time to the end of the series not just in terms of GRRM's life expectancy, but my own.
Rob Munnelly
14. RobMRobM
Lsana @13 - with you 100% on meaning of mummer's dragon.

Re finishing, I'm confident GRRM will get there but not confident at all it will get done in only two books.
Sky Thibedeau
15. SkylarkThibedeau
@6 I think youre right. I believe Illyrio and Varys divided up the surviving Targayens twix themselves. Illyrio took care of Dany and Viserys while Varys replaced baby Aegon and sent him to a disgraced member of the Kingsgaurd to be reared as a knight.
Rob Munnelly
16. RobMRobM
@15 - one clarifying point: Jon Connington was not a member of the Kingsguard - he was former Hand of the King. But the bigger picture point - why would V and I split up the three Targs between themselves? What is the end game? Why not keep them together and train them all as rulers?
Jim Kiley
17. Hammerlock
@16 RobM-

Dany and Viserys were the known "last heirs"--splitting Aegon from them keeps a Targ in reserve and out of the spotlight in case Robert's pogrom managed to successfully eliminate them despite Varys' best efforts.
Plus, Viserys was seven kinds of crazy. Wouldn't do to have the son of Rhaegar corrupted by that nutbar.
Iain Cupples
18. NumberNone
@15: except, that's not really consistent with AGOT. AGOT explains that Willem Darry had Viserys and Daenerys for years, and that after his death they wandered around the Free Cities on their own before falling in with Illyrio. If (big if) Young Griff really is Aegon, Illyrio and Viserys must have had him all that time, while Darry had the other two. (And was apparently negotiating marriage pacts with Doran Martell.)

I think originally there were two plots to restore the Targs - Illrio/Varys and Martell/Darry. It's only later that Illyrio gets the chance to bring them together.
Chris Palmer
19. cmpalmer
@18, that makes sense. Particularly because Varys would never have trusted Illrio further if Illrio was responsible for how badly Viserys turned out (compared to the careful training Aegon is getting in statesmanship).
Jim Kiley
20. Lsana

There were definitely at least two plots involving the Targs. Quentyn thinks that one of the things that his father told him was that they needed to avoid attracting Varys's attention, lest Varys report them to the Lannisters. Clearly Doran wasn't plotting with him and didn't suspect that he was a Targaryan loyalist (if indeed he is).


Illyrio was not responsible for how Viserys turned out. The implication from Dany's first chapter way back in GoT is that she and Viserys had relatively recently arrived in Illyrio's mansion. She says that after Darry died, they didn't really have any sort of protector, just a series of hosts (and in fact she thinks of Illyrio as just the latest in a long line, not as anything special). There's also the point that Barristan had a pretty good idea of what Viserys was going to turn into even back when he was seven.

Although now that I type that bit about the hosts, I wonder if some of them might have been related to Doran Martell's wife...
Jim Kiley
21. Gentleman Farmer
@16, 17 RobM and Hammerlock

I agree with RobM on this... I don't understand the end game at all. I'm glad the "plots and pieces" portion came together for Jo, but based on the information we have, it's making no sense to me whatsoever.

Illyrio and Varys decide to save the Targaryens from the rebellion, to create a period of civil strife at some point in the future. They let Viserys wander around the free cities broke and as a joke for 13+ years, then take an interest in him.

There is allegedly a plan by which Viserys will be married to a princess of Dorne, to make a claim on the throne of the 7 kingdoms. Dany gets married off to a Dothraki ruler who can provide additional swords to help him get the throne, but also to ensure that she and her heir will be safe if Viserys fails... all making sense so far, and includes a built in back-up plan for a future attempt if all goes wrong.

... except that you simultaneously set up a pretender to the throne in Aegon with a War of the Roses question as to legitimate next in line? (who is the legitimate heir, Aegon as the eldest son of the eldest son who predeceased the King, or Viserys as the oldest surviving son of that king?) A multiplicity of back-up plans which only serve to weaken the primary plan (whether you consider Viserys as the primary or the back-up) is not designed to succeed, but has to be designed to ultimately fail.

Is this to ensure that the Seven Kingdoms are in total civil war, with some declaring for Viserys and others for Aegon? In which case the plan was not to put a Targaryen on the throne at all, but to destroy the Seven Kingdoms with war. Doesn't seem entirely consistent with Varys' claim to protect the smallfolk.

Which leads to the question of why Varys wants a Targaryen on the throne in the first place. The last purebred line of sorcerers, whose members have for generations tried desperately, and in many cases fatally to resurrect dragons and restore themselves as the ruling Dragonlords of lost Valyria. If Varys can be trusted on his feelings about sorcerers (and his comments on Melisandre seem to me to be one of his few genuine displays of emotion), then why would he not have rejoiced to have Robert on the throne and a final end to the sorcerers who fled the Doom and established themselves in the Seven Kingdoms?

Based on what we saw in AFFC regarding the goals of the maesters to eliminate magic from the world and bring in an age of science, I could see a legitimate cabal, potentially including Varys, Pycelle and the maesters of Oldtown, who conspired to bring about the end of the Targaryens, who propped up mad King Aerys long enough for the people to rise up and finally destroy the last of the dragonlords, but based on the information we have, I can't see Varys on the other side of the equation yet...

and in either case, setting up multiple claimants to the throne is not (whatever might be claimed to the contrary) a plot that is intended to restore a rightful king to the throne nor stability to the realm.
Jim Kiley
22. mochabean
@RobMRobM - "who is father of Ashara's stillborn baby - and was it really stillborn or was that a tale invented by Varys?; is Septa Lemore someone we should know?"

I like how you have those questions grouped together and I doubt that is a coincidence.
Jim Kiley
24. Hammerlock
@ 21 - You assume all the backup plans were equal in terms of preference.
As I mentioned, Dany and Viserys were known to have survived Westeros and were actively hunted...further, Viserys probably showed early on that he would have been Mad Aerys Junior. So Varys was probably content to arrange for him to be on the run, moving from host to host and keeping the focus on him and his sister. They did make some preparations for V to take the throne (the pact, the Dothraki), but I wouldn't be surprised if Viserys wouldn't long survive the conquest in favor of Aegon.
I think Aegon was always the intended heir--the secrecy, the careful training and upbringing, the preparations--all of it geared towards creating a classic king that could unify a civil war-torn westeros.
That Daenerys actually turns out to be a viable queen--and has hatched dragons!--is an added bonus/twist to the plot.
Jim Kiley
25. lampwick
I'm so glad you think Jon survives. I read that last paragraph about him any number of times, and I have a hard time seeing him coming back from that many stabbings. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of him going into his wolf. How much can he accomplish in the body of a wolf, anyway? For the same reason I don't like him coming back diminished as a zombie, though I seem to be in the minority here. (But on the other other hand, if he's been dead he can leave the Wall without breaking his oath.)

Agree with everyone who thinks Martin is in command of the story. There have been too many scenes where Martin has been obviously working to get his chess pieces to the right places for a spectacular climax, and I can see him doing that in this book. I just wish we didn't have to wait so long for them to come to fruition.
Jo Walton
26. bluejo
The last thing Varys and Illyrio want is another mad king like Aerys. They've been bringing up Aegon to be the perfect candidate when he's old enough. Meanwhile, Viserys and Daenerys are visible lures to drag across Robert's path when he's getting paranoid -- and emergency Targaryens in reserve.

What I wonder is how many dragon eggs Illyrio had, and where he got them.
Jim Kiley
27. Jeff R.
I'm going to throw in my theory, which is that Aegon's real father was not Rhaegar but Aerys, which is the best explanation for why Rhaegar was apparently planning to set Elia aside in favor of Lyanna. (And may have been planning to raise his own rebellion before Robert beat him to the punch.)

This would muddy Aegon's claim in the succession and make marrying him to Dany far more necessary, if known.

I think that the Varys/Illrio master plan has to have included a lot of assassinations, allowing intricate series of marriages, and would probably have ended up with either a widower Aegon ruling or an infant king and a regency council. Alternatively, the whole thing could be an attempt at maximal chaos and complete government collapse in Westeros, turning the whole continent into a one-stop-shopping-mart for slavers...
Jim Kiley
28. JoeNotCharles
I don't know that I'd call Wyman Manderly "not morally weak" or "a hero". He certainly is on the good guys' side, but... he reenacted the Rat Cook! Forced cannibalism is a bit beyond the pale for a hero, isn't it?

I actually did read this stitched together - I read Tyrion's first chapter and realized the end of Storm of Swords wasn't vivid enough in my memory to get the right emotional weight, so I went back and reread it. Then instead of rereading Feast for Crows, I read it and Dance of Dragons alternating, flipping between books every time a viewpoint repeated (which turned out to be every Tyrion chapter and every Cersei chapter, except that once Jon had two viewpoints in a row before anyone else did). The two got unsynced in time pretty quickly, but that didn't matter so much because I'd already read Feast for Crows twice so I didn't get lost.

I noticed a couple of small asides in AFfC which clearly should have come right before a passage in ADwD, so I suspect these were meant to be adjacent chapters and survived all the editing: in AFfC, there's a chapter where Arianne Martell says that her friend is "an orphan of the Rhoyne" and explains what this means and gives a brief history of the Rhoyne's relationship to Dorne. Then there's an aside in ADwD when Tyrion first reaches the Rhoyne, that one of his new companions is "a Dornish orphan come home". If I hadn't happened to be reading these chapters close to each other, I'd never have remembered what that meant.

And more importantly, there's a chapter when something triggers Jaime Lannister's memory of Jon Connington, and he infodumps the man's entire history as he reminisces. I'm certain that this is meant to go right before Tyrion actually meets him.

I went through and made a list of how I would organise the chapters to put the two books together. It mostly works very well, and I managed to put both the pairs of chapters I mentioned above adjacent to each other. I had to shuffle a few around, mainly moving Davos chapters later in ADwD so that his POV comes between Cersei's reports on him. I was even able to preserve Maester Aemon's realization about the prophecy in AFfC as the first time it's explicitly applied to Daenerys, even though that's being shouted from the rooftops in ADwD.

There was only one moment that was impossible to make satisfying this way: the biggest payoff of Feast for Crows (for me) was when Doran Martell says one line that tells the reader exactly when Quentyn is off doing. There's no way to move this line forward in the book, and there's no way to move Quentyn's own first POV - which explicitly gives away his motives. The feel to me is that the Dorne thread is the main thing which was rewritten with the two-part structure in mind. In AFfC, the Dorne thread is presented as a mystery: people speculate about the motives of the Golden Company, and about what Quentyn is up to, and at the climax we are given a strong clue. Then in ADwD we at last see both Quentyn and the Golden Company and the mystery is resolved. (Davos has a similar mystery, but, "His head was dipped in tar but we knew it was him by his shortened fingers," was too obviously a red herring, so the mystery is more, "What exactly is going on over there?" than, "Is he really dead?") If you put the two books together, both the Quentyn and Davos threads fall into a pattern of someone making speculations or reports on what they're doing, and then the truth being shown a chapter or two later. That's a much less interesting structure, but I think the overall flow works so much better if you put the two books together that it's a minor loss.

The big difference between the Quentyn thread and the Davos thread was that it seemed the beats of the Quentyn thread were tweaked to give the most mystery, followed by the climactic reveal, in one book. Seeing how the whole thing was laid out, I felt I could spot a lot of the seams where Martin broke it up, but in this case I was impressed with the way he took advantage of the change in structure.
Jim Kiley
29. JoeNotCharles
Oh, another point of correspondence between the two books is that if you slot Lady Hornwood's chapter in ADwD right before the end of AFfC (it fits nicely there in terms of timelines matching up), you get her offhand speculation of a conspiracy among the maesters (paraphrased: "I don't trust them - every Lord has a maester, and how do we know they're not manipulating them?") just before Marwyn lays it out. Which gives it some needed foreshadowing - in AFfC alone it seemed to come out of nowhere to me (although there's an argument that it's more shocking for that.)

Of course, there's another argument to be made that both Lady Hornwood and Marwyn are nutso conspiracy theorists.
Bret Scott
30. BlacksmithButNotEmo
At the point where I read of Jon and the steel poisoning, it had GRRM's desired effect: sucker punch. That bastard! How can he kill off Jon after all of this? I wanted to believe he wasn't dead, full out misdirection...

Then I read the stuff above. Jon is dead, alright, but let's not forget about Thoros of Myr and the unkillable (for a while) Lord Beric Dondarrion. Melisandre brings him back, and with Stannis dead, cements herself to Jon.

I did a full reread for this book. I see at least three more books, but maybe more like four. I, too, will be old and grey by the time it's done.
Jim Kiley
31. I can't think of an alias
GRRM himself has said that he didn't know how unravel the "Meeranese knot". If that's not an author who's story has gotten much bigger and more complicated than he expected, I don't know what is.

It's going to be at least four more books. Remember Robert Jordan thought he had one more book to go and it's taken Sanderson three books to wrap things up. And Sanderson was compelled to follow a pre-planned plot line. Jordan probably would have written more pages than Sanderson to complete WOT. GRRM's story is now larger than WOT and shows no sign of contracting.

Like many of you, I think that Dany's story is the weakest in the books, but even with his flaws GRRM is still the best in the business.
Jim Kiley
32. Susan Loyal
Thanks for the post, Jo.

(Now that I've read the post and the comments, I'm plagued by the voice of the kid in the frame story of the movie The Princess Bride saying "Saved by bankers is good.")

I reread all four previous books in the run up to Dragons. I tentatively am of your husband's opinion, and I hope we're right, because frankly I'm too old to keep doing this. Six weeks disappeared into the enterprise, but I came out with a rather different impression of the work as a, er, well I can't quite say "whole", can I? Sweep, maybe?

I'd always felt some distain for Sansa, pretty-pretty Sansa, in previous readings. This time through, hers was the viewpoint I preferred (after Tyrion's), because she's the one who cares about stories, and she's the one who's getting the accelerated course in how life differs from story. As a result, the total lack of Sansa in Dragons was a problem for me.

I found that I'd remembered there being both more Jon riding with the wildlings and more Dany in Swords than was actually there. I had remembered the Dornish chapters as dominating Feast. There were actually very few chapters in Dorne.

My reading speed decreased steadily once I hit Feast and Dragons. (When I proofed this, I'd typed "deceased" instead of "decreased." Maybe.) The lack of forward momentum is less in the plot than in the reading experience, for me. I felt caught in an eddy, and it wasn't always a pleasant experience.

My impulse to rearrange the chapters in Feast and Dragons in the end comes down to a firm recommendation to read the first half of the Tyrion arc in Dragons (up to the point where he meets Ser Jorah) interleaved with the Brienne chapters in Feast, ending Feast with the scene where Tyrion meets Jorah. It provides a direct contrast between Brienne's experience of the Trident region in its chaotic, wartorn state and Tyrion's experience of the riverways through Old Valyrion, more temporally distant from their devastation. The thematic contrast helps me get past the impression that we've got "camping with sword, shield, and Pod" and "Tyrion takes a cruise" as bits of questionably useful travelogue.

It also leaves a more direct contrast of Jon's issues with leadership and Dany's, perhaps drawing more attention to their differences. Jon has no trouble making decisions, but he doesn't do a good job of "the vision thing" and getting his people on board. Dany has a clear vision for Slaver's Bay, and she really does a good job of communicating it, but she's been putting off the hard decisions. (Put them in a paper bag; shake hard.)

We get so much baby-swapping in the two most recent volumes (starting with Jon swapping out Mance's baby with Craster's) that I have begun to wonder if the poor smashed little boy who was substituted for Aegon was the last "swap" Aegon experienced. And I am left wondering about the identity of the Dayne lad who was squiring for Dondarrion in Swords, the one who claimed to be Jon's milk brother.

I've been very seriously invested in Jon Snow as a viewpoint character from the first, but I was seriously invested in Ned. Jon was winding up to the "Julius Ceasar" scene from the very beginning of Dragons. The minute he sent all his friends to other locations, I started mentally preparing for devastation. I don't mind GRRM's killing him off. I do mind the (possibly) pulled punch as a cliffhanger. It feels cheap to me too. (I spotted the trick with Mance, because the Mance who died didn't behave like Mance.) Enough with the feints and switches. Too many, no more. Little and less, please.

As I crept to the end of Dragons, I kept noticing how few conversations there are between women of the same social status. Dany talks to her handmaids, so the books technically pass the Bechdel test, but really we have to go back to Catelyn and Brienne processing the Renly catastrophe to get a substantive conversation between women. It's an isolating world. (Afterwards, I read five urban fantasies in one week.)

There was some outcry about Tyrion becoming "comic relief", but I found his encounter with the reality of life as a dwarf in the wide world to be one of the best-handled elements of Dragons. Without it, I wouldn't have noticed how very much he was raised to be a Lannister. How strange to think that Tywin had been protecting Tyrion rather than (or in addition to) rejecting him.

Hmm. This comment is long and disjointed. Ice and Fire, the influence of.

Blow, blow, thou winter winds. They can't come too soon.
Iain Cupples
33. NumberNone
@27: two plots, remember? Willem Darry was an Aerys loyalist to the last - up to and after Varys got a pardon from Robert. No doubt he didn't trust Varys, and so until he died, Varys and Illyrio didn't have and couldn't get to Viserys.

Even after they do get their mitts on him, Illyrio seems mostly uninterested in protecting Viserys from his own follies. I suspect what they really wanted was Dany, to win over the Dothraki - and once that had been achieved and Aegon was in place, Viserys would have been removed from the board.

On a broader point: I think I agree that 'Dance' works less well thematically than the first three novels, but 'Feast' is much better in this respect. There's much less of a feel of pieces being moved, much more of an overarching theme. ACOK, on the other hand, always had something of that 'pieces-being-moved' feel to it: if ADWD reminds me of any other book in the series, it's ACOK. (Though lacking the big set-piece ending, of course.)
Jim Kiley
34. Lsana

I don't know if this is what GRRM meant, but for me, the "Mereenese knot" has two components:

1. Dany, the way she has been established, would not abandon Mereen to chaos, anarachy, and the eventual return of slavery. And frankly, I would lose respect for her if she did.

2. I don't care about Mereen. I don't want Dany to behave out of character and say, "Eh, screw it," but on the other hand, I don't want to read any more about this place and it's obnoxious people whose names I can't be bothered to keep track of.

As I see it, the best way to resolve the whole situation might be for Viserion to catch a cold and set the entire city on fire with his sneezing. When Dany gets back, there's nothing left but two dragons sitting somewhat sheepishly on a pile of ashes. We spend a chapter feeling bad about this, then all move on.
Anthony Pero
35. anthonypero
When people work form the shadows, and men with bright swords come in and start knocking down walls and breaking things, the shadow men simply melt away into the shadows and await a day in teh future when they can creep up and strike the man with a sword without being seen.

Varys didn't create a civil war situation in order to put Robert on the throne, nor did he do it 14 years later to put Daenyrs/Aegon on the throne. Varys actively tried to keep peace between the Wolf and the Lion, in order to prevent this from happening now. In my opinion, Littlefinger caused the whole thing to blow up. Well, to be fair Cersi and Jamie created the straw house, but Littlefinger lit the match.

As far as having two muddy plots... Varys never intended for Viserys to live to reach the throne. Viserys was a distraction for Robert to focus on.
Jim Kiley
36. lampwick
Back to Jon being/not being dead (sorry if I seem to be obsessing on this, but I really like him as a character) -- All along Jon has had experiences where he's learned something, or grown somewhat, and I can't believe that Martin was giving him all this with nothing planned at the end of it. He's obviously supposed to do something with all that knowledge and wisdom. (I know it would have been tacky, but did anyone talk to Martin about this at Worldcon?)
Jim Kiley
37. weste
do not disrespect the Victarion chapters, they for some reason shine brighter than most, even those of the top tier characters. Martin must be fond of British naval history. "Iron Victory" part "Iron Duke" part "Victory" all awesome.
Jim Kiley
38. Raskolnikov
Terrible book. Not just from frustration in the long wait, I believe it would have been unsatisfying evern if it had come out two months after Feast of Crows. Very little hapens, and less of it has any substance. Eighteen point of view characters exist to switch around and create a sense of movement while there is moving in circles, spinning wheels, and important things almost happening, being set up to happen down the road.

There are a lot of indications that Martin is going in the Robert Jordan path of just slowing things down and padding out his series indefinitely. After all, he has great sales, why kill the goose just now? Even if he's not, I don't see that Martin is building to anything terrible great. In the end it's just not that morally complex or interesting a world. In particular I'd preference the tendency in this book (and the series as a whole) to push things into stark moral absolutes. The Others can't just be an external threat, they have to be a sort of satanic cold that kills and creates zombies. Mereen and the other cites can't just be a brutal and callous slave caste, they have to be so flagrantly evil and vivisect slaves on every appearance to make the point clear. The Boltons can't just be a powerhungry antagonist clan, they have to have a sociopathic father and utterly sadistic son. It's all manipulative and simplistic to a fault, and proves really tedious. For real complexity in fantasy there are a lot of authors that do it vastly better--Mieville, Morgan, Valente and Whitfield come to mind. Why embrace Martin's craft now that the one real appeal, the sense of pace and some ruthless plot momentum, has now completely fallen apart?

I feel the review is far, far too generous towards the text and overly trusting in Martin's long-term capability and control with his plot. I'm done with this series. Hopefully the HBO production will be still going strong in a couple years, perhaps they can adapt all the significant drama and actions of this book into the relevant 20 minutes.
Jim Kiley
39. Lsana

While it's somewhat tangential to your overall point, 18? I only counted 16 in this book.
Jim Kiley
40. stampey
When I read, I thought it was obvious that the book intro about wargs was a lead-in to the Bran storyline, not the answer to the cliffhanger about Jon. No one else seems to have made that connection that I've read/talked to. I still think I am right ("why it is there"), but I guess it isn't "obvious".

Also, #27 "the best explanation for why Rhaegar was apparently planning to set Elia aside in favor of Lyanna"
I thought ADWD gave us this explanation already - Elia couldn't have more children and Aegon needed a second consort to fulfill the prophesy, b/c Rhaegar didnt' know about Dany being born.
Jim Kiley
41. lampwick
@ 38 -- "Not that morally complex ... a world"? To take just one example from ADwD, Dany has to decide whether she wants to marry a man she doesn't love or trust but who will, she hopes, help pacify Meereen. Does she do what she wants, or what will help her people? And then there's Arya, who wants to have revenge against everyone who hurt her or her family, and in order to do that, to become an assassin, she has to kill someone completely innocent. How does she square that with her upbringing?
Claire de Trafford
42. Booksnhorses
I enjoyed DWD, particularly because I was strict in my head as seeing it as the other half of Feast. Without that I'd have been a lot more disappointed I think. As it is, it has flaws, it's not as good as the first three books, but it is still as good, if not better, than most of the stuff out there. If Rothfuss can pull off Kingkiller in 3 books then he might just sneak past GRRM in my own opinion, but it is still going to be close.

I did enjoy Dany in Meereen. I thought it was realistic and I appreciate her not wanting to just use her dragons to torch through all her problems. Plus - how exactly DO you train a dragon? It just needed a few more chapters after Dany rode Drogon to make it more perfect.

Actually I felt that about most of the povs. Although DWD was huge it didn't quite finish at the point I wanted. Why have that stupid cliff hanger with Jaime (why just have one chapter?), why the scene with Jon? I really can't believe he is dead and I don't really want him surviving in his wolf - how crap is that? Is Bran really going to be stuck under a tree for the rest of his life? Why didn't they while away the time with more stories about Ned and Howland's adventures in the rebellion? Is Stannis really dead - I don't think so. Why didn't Tyrion meet up with Dany? Arya is always good but I really wish George had aged up the children.

Anyway, will go back and read all the previous entries now and update later. Thanks for the review Jo.
Jim Kiley
43. Croaker40
I started my re-read of the series over the winter and timed it so that I'd just finished AFFC just as this one came out. I'm glad I did. I'd never re-read any of the books and had forgotten way more than I thought I had. Anyway, by doing that I found it easy to treat the two books as one long novel. It seemed to work well, but I could really tell that the story seemed a bit less focused. I figure it was due to the fact that it was so hard for him to pull it out of himself. I still loved it though.
Bill Stusser
44. billiam
I was very disappointed with this book. Nothing really happened and it had no real ending, just a bunch of cliffhangers. I know a lot of people will disagree with me but imo AFfC was a better book.

I have to disagree with several parts of this review. I didn't think that Tyrion's story was satisfying at all. Exactly the opposite in fact. He got all the way to Mereen just in time to see Dany leave? Really? And I could have done without Penny and her pig.

I would rather read about the Dornish stuff than any of the shit that happened in Merreen. I was so tired of the Bachelorette starring Dany. She has never been one of my favorite characters and I found her to be downright annoying in this book.

Now, on to the mummer's dragon. I know most people think it is either Quentyn or Aegon but could it be Stannis? The quote from ACoK is "Glowing like the sunset, a red sword was raised in the hand of a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow. A cloth dragon swayed on poles amidst a cheering crowd. From a smoking tower, a great stone beast took wing, breathing shadow fire ... mother of dragons, slayer of lies". The king sounds like Stannis and Mel keeps talking about stone dragons. I know each sentence could be talking about different foretellings but why are these three together?

I don't think Jon is dead dead, just mostly dead. I really hope he doesn't come back as another zombie/wight/undead thing. I would say it seems obvious that he will be back in some way, but of course GRRM doesn't do obvious. It really seemed like GRRM was setting Jon up to be AA reborn or the ptwp. And from the interview with EW GRRM seemed surprised that anyone actually believed that Jon was dead. Lastly we have "A blue Flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness".

So yeah, disappointing. It seemed like GRRM just ran out of room and said "well this is a good place to stop". I'm hoping that it won't be five or six years before TWoW comes out.
Sherri Nichols
45. snichols
I read all of the books over the last few months, and while I enjoyed the first three, I have to say, I don't quite get all the hype. Yeah, good books, upends fantasy tropes, the different point of view stuff is good, but The American Tolkien? Nah, didn't see it. As for A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, the only way I made it through AFfC is in the hopes that ADWD would salvage it. Unfortunately, even together, they don't add up to a novel.

The first book made promises the rest of the series hasn't delivered. A Game of Thrones grabbed me by the throat and took off, leaving me breathless for the next page. By the end of ADWD, I was lost in the desert, and there was no sign that the next page would be any different than the last. The books are complicated rather than complex; I don't feel compelled to keep up with the details, because I can't tell any of it matters. He's taught me not to get invested in the characters, because he might kill that character off any moment now, only maybe not really. You can only pull that off so many times before I cease to care.

I could forgive the loss of plot pulling me along and the lack of emotional investment in the characters if he were giving me something to think about in the larger world, but I don't see that either. Everybody's playing the Game of Thrones, but there's not really that much difference in how they think about power and what to do with it, for example.

I was just expecting more after all I'd heard about the series.
Jim Kiley
46. Jack Stark
The spoilers from this book put me off this series, at least for now.

Aegon, really? More switcheroos? Jon dies? Wasted time on Theon's mostly inconsequential chapters? More travelling than the Lord of the freakin Rings?

Yeah, sure, sounds awesome.

Besides, now that I think about it, the first three books sorta tell a complete story: they were mostly about the Stark vs. Lannister conflict and how that created a Civil War in Westeros, and that story's over: the good guys get obliterated and the bad guys... don't get screwed as much, but end in a much worse situation than how they started - turns out Cersei was wrong: When you play the game of thrones, you LOSE. Sure, we're left with a couple of dangling plotlines: the dragon lady and the zombie apocalypse but... to be honest, I can live just fine not knowing the resolution to these threads.
Iain Cupples
47. NumberNone
I want to address this suggestion that 'nothing happens'. Now, to get one thing straight: ADWD is not my favourite book in the series, and it's not GRRM's best writing, in my opinion. But 'nothing happens'?

Prophecies are fulfilled: there are wars, rebellions, betrayals and plagues. A hitherto unknown pretender arises and invades Westeros. The Dornish plot revealed at the end of AFFC is pursued and then fails in a spectacular fashion that may switch Dorne's loyalties to this new pretender. Dany struggles against foreign armies and domestic uprisings while her dragons grow much more powerful: they are imprisoned and then freed (people achieving their freedom being a bit of a recurring theme). Tyrion starts out a virtual prisoner, becomes an actual slave, and winds up free and holding the balance of power in Meereen (without the Second Sons, the Yunkish can't win).

Arya graduates to doing actual assassinations for the Faceless Men, while increasing her warg powers. The situation at the Wall is transformed twice, first by Jon's attempts to ally with the wildlings and then by Marsh's attempted coup/assassination. Stannis has gone from a no-hoper to a serious contender for the throne. Bran becomes a powerful greenseer. Cersei is on the brink of being restored to power, in a more disastrous situation than the one she left behind. Oh, and we get updates on Theon, Asha, Brienne, Varys, Jaime, Myrcella, Davos, Victarion, and others.

I can understand the argument that all of this amounts to less drama and plot progression, perhaps, than happened in ASOS - while taking more pages to tell. I can sympathise with the suggestion that some of the chapters might have been dropped, or merged, or that some of the plotlines should have been taken further. And people are entitled to criticise, of course. But the claim that 'nothing happens' isn't criticism, it's breathless hyperbole. And it just looks a bit silly.
Jim Kiley
48. Lsana

It seems unlikely that Stannis is the mummer's dragon, based on the suggestion from Quaith that the mummer's dragon was on his way to Dany. That pretty much means it has to be either Aegon, Quentyn, or someone totally out of left field.

I agree with you on the Tyrion chapters. They weren't my least favorite, but they were the most disappointing.
Jim Kiley
49. Raskolnikov
@ 38 -- "Not that morally complex ... a world"? To take just one example from ADwD, Dany has to decide whether she wants to marry a man she doesn't love or trust but who will, she hopes, help pacify Meereen. Does she do what she wants, or what will help her people? And then there's Arya, who wants to have revenge against everyone who hurt her or her family, and in order to do that, to become an assassin, she has to kill someone completely innocent. How does she square that with her upbringing?
You regard that as the best example of moral complexity in the series? Ultimately it's the notion of the great leader sacricing personal interests for their cause, which to me at least was rendered tedious through the attraction towards the rogue character. I don't see this issue going very far below the surface.

Prophecies are fulfilled: there are wars, rebellions, betrayals and
plagues. A hitherto unknown pretender arises and invades Westeros. The Dornish plot revealed at the end of AFFC is pursued and then fails in a spectacular fashion that may switch Dorne's loyalties to this new
pretender. Dany struggles against foreign armies and domestic uprisings while her dragons grow much more powerful: they are imprisoned and then freed (people achieving their freedom being a bit of a recurring theme).
Tyrion starts out a virtual prisoner, becomes an actual slave, and
winds up free and holding the balance of power in Meereen (without the Second Sons, the Yunkish can't win).

Arya graduates to doing actual assassinations for the Faceless Men,
while increasing her warg powers. The situation at the Wall is
transformed twice, first by Jon's attempts to ally with the wildlings
and then by Marsh's attempted coup/assassination. Stannis has gone from a no-hoper to a serious contender for the throne. Bran becomes a powerful greenseer. Cersei is on the brink of being restored to power, in a more disastrous situation than the one she left behind. Oh, and we get updates on Theon, Asha, Brienne, Varys, Jaime, Myrcella, Davos,
Victarion, and others.
We seem to be using rather different standards. I view the phrasing at the end 'we get updates on...' as far too approrpriate. We are with characters. There is movement across space and planning of stuff, sure. If that's the standpoint for drama and investment than the book qualifies. But overwhelmingly what we're giving is a slow buildup to future events or moving in circles. Daernys has to be the worst offender in this--we see the situation in Mereen threatens to fall apart, stabilize somewhat, fall apart, she leaves. Tyrion tries to reach her but doesn't succeed, instead being involved with ultimately meaningless wanderings. The long-term benefit of the Mereen diversion is what, just the dragons getting larger? It's not meaningful change. Likewise there's no particular reason to not have a decisive Stannis-Bolton clash within the first hundred pages of this book, as opposed to *maybe* the very end of the novel.
Jim Kiley
50. lampwick
@ 49 -- No, I don't "regard that as the best example of moral complexity in the series" -- it was just the first thing I thought of. Having thought about it some more I've come up with a much better example. One of Dany's first acts in Meereen is to free all the slaves. I think everyone reading that cheered -- I mean, slavery is wrong. And yet the whole place runs on slavery -- by freeing the slaves she pretty much trashed the whole economy. Okay, now what does she do? All I can say is, I'm glad I don't have to make that decision.
Jim Kiley
51. mojave_wolf
I loved the first four books, albeit with some reservations at various points, but am highly, highly ambivalent about this one. It's going to be really hard for me not to write a multi-thousand word essay, but I'll try.

Don't really view it and AFfC as one book, either; I thought AFfC was beautifully written, if a little too bleak for my tastes. I thought the Dornish chapters were wonderful, and a nice antidote for much of what I didn't like about the rest of the series (hey, a place where I actually *liked* the majority of the people! The people who wanted to hurt other people actually had sane reasons for it!), and the Brienne chapters were among the most beautifully written of the entire series. The Oldtown chapters were brief but incredibly written and exciting in their implications. The Arya chapters kicked ass as always. etc.

Now, ADwD. Prologue-Ick, ick and more ick. Did not want to be inside this truly vile and disgusting person's head. Am annoyed that he still lives in any shape or form. But, okay, he's dead now, at least mostly. That's a plus.

Then, Tyrion. I had mostly been inclined to like Tyrion in previous books, albeit with huge reservations at several points (I did major mental calisthenics pretending the stuff with Tysha didn't happen the way he recounted, and his otherwise likability plus my massive sympathy for him stuck being a dwarf raised by *that* family and a strong candidate for Most Evil Father of All Time got him a mostly-pass on the way he treated Shae before he realized she was a horrible person). But, here? In his first few chapters, see comment about prologue. "Did not want to be inside this truly vile and disgusting person's head." If had not already been a huge fan of series, would have quit reading forever by now. Then he got somewhat better, and while still problematic, I am, again, inclined to cut him a LOT of slack due to life circumstances and was contemplating pretending the opening chapters happened differently, then he became truly, truly awful again towards the end. I don't care if he's technically on the "right" side; I I would have laughed and cheered if he'd been the one getting dragon-fried. He essentially raped the slave girl, expressed a desire to rape as well as kill Cersei (the kill I get, the other? WTF?), treats Penny like crap and seems to ahve absolutely zero conern for her dog and pig getitng butchered thanks to his wonderful plan, and cotmept for her for caring about what are basically her only friends in the world. I realize he's the author's favorite character and that of many fans, so probably too much to hope for that he dies horribly and soon.

Despite loving the Selmy pov and Dany being one of my favorite characters, and loving the Quentyn chapters (if only the idiot hadn't fired the crossbow! If only there had been only one or the twain had not been so cranky from being stupidly chained up! If only he'd tried more gentleness and less whip! That plan could actually have worked! One of my best friends thought it unbelievably stupid, but it's something I would have at least considered in the same spot) and despite generally thinking grrm is an amazingly talented writer, didn't care for the Mereen chapters.

I'm not entirely sure what grrm's trying to do here, and a lot of the individual moments are great, but he just isn't handling that plotline very well, imo. Have trouble seeing her not being more imaginative and resourceful (or hell, even trying) in her attempts to bond with/control the dragons. Doesn't fit with previous books at all. "Oops, problem! Let's chain them up pronto and then dither!" Not really Dany-like. There's a general sense of making bad things happen just because the author wants bad things to happen, along with a whiff of "see? this is what happens when you try to do good? You're bound to hurt as much as you help or more!" which is so horribly reminiscent of many real world politicians and philosophies I not only hate, but have been proven demonstrably wrong, that I have a really strong aversion to even the hint of this.

The North was a lot better, but I actually thought about not reading further when Jon got repeatedly stabbed. I will be very upset if he's dead or disabled. Nothing actually wrong with the way this was handled, it was set up well and I was sure when the note arrived it was some sort of trick (whether by Bolton or Melisande I wasn't sure) and Jon was falling for it, but hadn't realized it might be a trick of his own people. Or maybe that was just the attack on the giant? Again, this was well done, but a little too much with the grimdark stuff here, by a lot. Way too much suffering and cruelty inflicted on people I like for way too many books now. Not saying real life isn't that way sometimes, but there's a reason I don't spend my entire free time watching documentaries about Everything Bad Happening in the World, and space those out accordingly.

The rest? I think I liked, except so little of the anger and contempt directed towards Cersei had anything to do with her multitude of hatable qualities, and had more to do with the generally misogynist tone of the society. Good job of grrm getting me to think a truly evil character who truly deserves death most quickly is more sympathetic than almost all the people who hate her, but I guess that could sum up my problem with the whole book. I've always thought people came in all sorts of shades of all sorts of colors and color combinations (personality and character-wize, I mean, not just physically), and "shades of gray" was overly reductive, but even taking it as a good phrase, if it means "some of the awful evil needing to die people are a little more appealing and/or less awful than the rest, and one tenth of the population is actually likable and they all fail at every turn", that's just ... not something I want to spend too many pages reading.
Jim Kiley
52. Raskolnikov
#50: Yes, the after-effects and complex ramifications of just trying to abolish slavery could make for a rich text. However I feel, as I stated intitially, that this dynamic is undermined by having the Mereen elite be baby-killing, mustache-twirlingly evil, vile in every possible moment. The only real tension here comes between what the characters should consider more significant (stay, rule in the Free Cities and force a level of change to the abominable structures) and what the readers want to see happen narratively (invade Westeros). There's ambivalence there, but it's not because anything that's happened on that continent is morally or politically complex. It really isn't.
Jim Kiley
53. Tenesmus
I had the pleasure, or misfortune, to read AFFC and ADWD concurrently. you can gague by chapter titles when the need to flip back and forth between books occurs. The early Cersei (affc) and Tyrion (adwd) work well when read together. Also the Dorne and Greyjot plots hold up nicely when the books are read simultaneoulsy. There is a natural break before Arya's first chapter in ADWD and the end of AFFC.

Given all that, I still found it a bit irksome to wade through almost 2000 pages of text for the movement of arcs that we got.
Jim Kiley
54. I can't think of an alias
@45 I think it is unfair to evaluate GRRM by reading his books more than 15 years after GoT was published. His break with what came before (endless imitations of Tolkien) was immense and has changed all subsequent fantasy.

I felt the same way you did about GRRM when I saw Citizen Kane, which is widely thought of as one of the greatest movies of all time. Its inovations had become some much part of every movie since, that I couldn't really appreciate it. But my personal reaction doesn't chage the greatness of Orson Wells.

That being said, I'll restate the same thing that I said before; GRRM has fallen down the same well that Jordan did. It mus have been something in the water in the '90's, the Sopranos was the very similar; started outstanding and then lost steam. I hope ASoIaF ends better than the Sopranos did.
Jim Kiley
55. Raskolnikov
#54 :
The Citizen Kane comparison to Game of Thrones seems rather unjustified to me. Not just in a gap of quality, but in Martin's text not being that groundbreaking. If we're talking fantasy authors going beyond the Tolkien model, you didn't need to wait till 1996 to have that be offered: by that point there had already been the New Weird, Vance, ---hell, even Pratchett making a lot of pull through deconstructing the stock fantasy and heroic adventure narratives. It was hardly like no one in fantasy had

If you're talking commerical impact and overall popularity--well, stuff that opens replicates Tolkien and pushes towards conventions is still well and good, it's not like A Game of Thrones smashed that to pieces. Furthermore get beyond the oh-so-shocking plot twists, higher levels of rape and a degree of cynicism and I think a lot of Martin aesthetics and worldbuilding are pretty conventional in fact. That becomes more clear in this volume, with the building up of higher levels of magic and the reaction to Jon being stapped overwhelmingly be 'no, here are the half dozen ways that Martin could choose from in saving him'. Not exactly the standpoint of genuinely anyone being able to die, is it?
Jim Kiley
56. Bill1
I'll just say that at least Jordan got through six good books before he started printing up doorstops like DWD. The cheap cliffhangers were great back in the first couple of books, but so many people have come back now that it doesn't mean anything. The throwing in another lost heir at this point is just ridiculous. Jordan series went downhill when he started worrying more about games and comics and prequals. GRRM is doing the exact same thing. This series might be two or three more books which translates to about 15 more years of waiting, no thanks.
Jonathan Levy
57. JonathanLevy
Regarding Jon and the possibility that Melisandre will save him:

Whereas it's possible she will resurrect him a la Dondarrion, keep in mind that she might heal him a la Victarion. If it can be argued that the purpose of the Warg Prologue is to suggest what Jon's fate might be, then it can also be argued that Victarion might have a similar purpose.
Jim Kiley
58. Kalk
"Aegon real or the mummer's dragon - and, if fake, who is he"

I think it's very likely that Aegon is actually Illyrio's son. Remember the statue of a young Illyrio who looks like a Targ? This theory makes a lot more sense of his motivations to me than some bizarre attachment to the Targaryens. So his plot, with his old best friend Varys, is to get his son to be king of Westeros, married to the real Targ, Daenerys, with psychopathic Viserys killed off at some point.
Bill Stusser
59. billiam
Kalk @ 58

Since my post @44 and Lsana @ 48 I've been thinking a lot about the mummer's dragon and I agree with you.

I went back and read what Quaithe says to Dany and the mummer's dragon heading towards her along with a lot of other guys like Sun's son (Quentyn), lion (Tyrion), Kracken (Victarion), etc.

I then went back and read all of the early Tyrion chapters. If young Griff is Illyrio's son and the wife that Illyrio loved so much was from the Blackfyre line of Targs it would explain a whole lot of things. Like why the Golden Company, which was founded by the blackfyres, would break their contract with Myr, something they have never done before. Or like why Illyrio was so disappointed he didn't get to see the boy. It would also explain why Varys and Illyrio need young Griff to marry Dany, it would legitimize him if he is a blackfyre and not a true Targ.

A buddy of mine also told me that he read somewhere that one theory is that the ancient sword of the blackfyres' is in one of the chests that Illyrio sent to young Griff.
Jim Kiley
60. Subnumine
Dance with Dragons states Martin's theme: "Men are beasts, selfish and brutal. However gentle the words, there are always darker motives underneath." He has a minor character largely for the purpose of getting Tyrion to admit his motives and make this comment. GRRM has been doing variants on this since Song of Lya, if not before.

Tolkien would probably agree with this as stated; he might consider it an article of faith. But Martin takes it further: in his world these are the conscious motives for almost all of the characters. The exceptions are those so far around the bend, like Lisa Arryn, that their consciousness is questionable, and the terminally naive, like Sansa and Ned Stark (as the current episode in the series reread reminds us).

This puts us into a very old trope; which the Rough Guide to Fantasyland identifies: the nobility is completely decadent and corrupt (just as, in SF, the Lost City of the Wise Ancients is fallen and inhabited by their mindless descendants). All claims to nobility are pretense.

Gondor was not so; Patrick Rothfuss' Four Corners of Civilization is not so. Denethor and the Maer are seriously flawed characters, but they do have the virtues of their class. Do Martin's?
Jim Kiley
61. DarrenJL
@58 That's an interesting theory. It doesn't really explain the care Illyrio took of Viserys, though. Had Illyrio wanted Viserys dead, it could have been arranged a thousand times, and more easily than gambling on Khal Drogo. Or believing that Khal Drogo would die of infection, freeing Dany up to marry his long-hidden son.

Aegon is the mummer's dragon for no other reason than Varys was and is a mummer. And Aegon is who he supports.
Jim Kiley
62. VoxOrange
Came; hoping for a meeting between Tyrion and Danys - left disappointed.

I enjoyed the death of Kevan Lannister. Varys talked in the first book about using children and needing more. He also talked about his hatred of magic. But it felt to me as though there was some magic involved in children finishing off Kevan.
I enjoyed the plotting from White Harbour. Although the whole business inside Winterfell felt like a replay from Harrenhal. The Boltons, body servants and mystery deaths.

I recall once telling George, that I could see Tryion Lannister playing chess. He said would not involve such a game so close to our own world. (just putting that out there).

At the end of the book all's I was left with, was wanting more.
Jim Kiley
63. I can't think of an alias
@55 If you don't like the Citizen Kane analogy, how about a different one: GRRM is the fantasy Elvis. Packaging up and refreshing others' innovations to rock (pun intended) the established popular music fantasy scene (and make a ton of money in the process).

The problem is we are now in GRRM's Viva Las Vegas period.
Jim Kiley
64. njpoetess
Thank goodness the series is coming to a final conclusion. I hate that Melanie Rawn refuses to conlude her series her Exiles Trilogy (fans have been waiting since 1994 and I decided not to read or purchase any more of her books until that series is concluded) and am GRATEFUL that Mr. Martin is winding his series up. It has been a great journey...I do hope that Jon is still alive...
Kat Blom
65. pro_star
Okay, thanks to whoever mentioned "what use is Jon Snow as Ghost?" for the Jon is dead but coming back all warg-ish argument.
For some reason, my sleep-deprived, not-quite-caffeinated brain thought up Ghost as "The Littlest Hobo" and now, I have that theme song IN MY HEAD!!! Sorry, thought y'all might get a chuckle out of my misfortune, or I could at least get it in someone else's head.

Back on topic, GRRM's "shock tactics" of killing off characters bears no oomph anymore. I did a speed read, and haven't re-read it yet (mean to do a series re-read, and just haven't had time since the book came out, dang life!) but I remember reading Jon's attack and going "oh, no, he's not dead yet!" (end Monty Python and insert Miracle Max - he's only MOSTLY dead!) because he HAS pulled this trick so many times before.
Rob Munnelly
66. RobMRobM
@65 - plenty of oomph for me in deaths of Quentyn and Keven Lannister. And I'm feeling pretty distressed about Mance Rayder and his women in hands of Ramsay Snow. Whether Jon is badly injured and survives (unlikely) or dies and is saved by Melissandre (very likely), there will be a big price to pay that I, for one, want to see.

Rob Munnelly
67. RobMRobM
EDIT - double post.

I'm not seeing GRRM as drug addicted, white suited Elvis - George is way too much on his game for that.
Jim Kiley
68. I can't think of an alias
That's why I used Viva Las Vegas. Pre-drug addled and white-suited, post-Sun Records. Still enjoyable and fun to watch, but definately lost something.

Put it this way, I haven't read GoT in more than 10 years. However, when watching the HBO series, I still clearly recalled plot points and lines of dialog. I can't recall much of Feast, even though it is much more recent. We've stayed with ASoIaF because we're hooked, but it's GoT that set the hook, not the most recent books.
Richard Boye
69. sarcastro
Great review Jo.

It just happened to coincide with my re-read of the book in which something extraordinary leapt out at me but something I somehow missed the first go-through.

Arya blundered her way - via sensory deprivation - into discovering how to warg (and not just into Nymeria)! The fact that she can see the world around via the eyesight of the cats around her is so awesome and cool that gives her an extra edge when she becomes Arya Stark Girl-Ninja with a Thirst for Vengeance.

The fact that she dreams of Nymeria and calls her the "night wolf" leads me to believe that rather than being called the trite "She-Wolf," her by-name will be Arya the Night Wolf and that just couldn't be any cooler.

The whole idea of the Temple of Black and White storing the faces of those who seek "final refuge" there was so gross and creepy and clever.

The whole notion of the greenseers seeing events perceived by the faces in the weirwoods and recorded in the memories of the trees just was so mindblowing, orgasmically cool ... it certainly gives a new appreciation to how utterly unstoppable Bloodraven must have been as a spymaster and Hand. I wanted to cry as Brand was trying to connect with the tree's memories of his father.

... and of course Bran saw a tall girl making out with a really tall knight - was that man's man, ladies' man, man about the realms Ser Duncan the Tall hooking up with one the long promised Wolf-Women of Winterfell? I betcha.

I also loved the entire exchange Jaime when accepted Raventree's submission from Lord Blackwood and the way he slapped Lord Bracken on the way out. the entire chapter reads so entertainingly with jokes, snappy patter and a really lame pun (Hos the Hostage). The idea of the long-dead and petrified weirwood at the heart of Raventree still calling to the ravens as a home was another of GRRM's awesome eerie touches. The notion of the town of Pennytree being a royal fief was also cleverly tucked away and is a nice connection to Dunk and Egg.

I remain slightly annoyed at the somewhat pat, contrived natures of the Sand Snakes, the Westerosi version of Fox Force Five (five as in there are five of them, foxes as in they are all rather foxy and force as in they are a force to be reckoned with) - we have the faux-pious one ready to insert herself into Faith HQ, Lady Nym ready to slink into the Red Keep (would the Small Council really accept a bastard woman - who is so young - as a suitable member of the council - even after all of GRRM's info-dumping that the presence of a even a highborn bastard is a grave social insult to the highborn women? ), etc.. I just find them to hit a very uncharacteristic dull note on the part of our dear author. They just don't seem like people who could exist like so many, many other of GRRM's creations. Unlike, say, Ellaria Sand who remains an excellently rendered character. Would that she be a sane, reliable regent somewhere.

So many more thoughts - more to come.
Jim Kiley
70. JohnOz
I enjoyed the book a lot although I did have an issue with 2 different areas.

The first was Stannis - for crying out loud either find someone to stick a sword in to or die. If I have to read another chapter about Stannis brooding in a tower and watching it snow I'll puke :)

The second was the finish of the book and the end (maybe) of Jon Snow. It just seemed to be a little forced to me. Given the way the series has been written I have no issue with the Snow character being killed (or turned into a wolf - whatever) but here was a character who was Night Watch to the core. Everyone is a brother, no other family, he even rejects the Stannis offer of a lordship to stay with the watch. Then a chapter or two later he gets a message calling him a bastard along with a demand for the return of his sister to Bolton and all of a sudden he's raising and army from within the watch to go join the battles which seems to me a clear departure from everything he believed in. Predictably he's then cut down for the continuation (or not) of his character in a different role.

Other than those points I enjoyed the book, in particular the Arya and Tyrion storylines even though they seem minor at the moment.
Jim Kiley
71. The SmilingKnight
I actually wrote a review of this book somewhat recently.
Cant really post parts of it here so ill just leave the link for anyone that wants a bit different and very critical view on it.

The language gets somewhat faul, maybe a lot but i think i gave some good reasons why i think like i do. And i think most people here are grown ups who can handle it without fainting.
Kiagh Bridges
72. kiagh88
Regarding Jon Snow-
For him to make the contribution to the whole war that many think he will, he cannot be leader of the night's watch. So he has to die.

I am of the opinion he is Lyanna and Rhaegar's son protected by Ned. Therefore he has king's blood flowing in his veins, which Meliasandre bangs on about previously, that has to be important.

I'm certain he won't 'die' in the conventional sense, but for sure he isn't going to be killed off or become a warg completely. However he is saved, be it as a warg to save himself or Meliasandre or WunWun, he has an important part to play and I don't think its as a permanent lord of the watch.

Maybe king in the north, uniting the watch and Winterfell. Bringing the wildlings into the equation too.

On a separate note, I don't believe this book was bad at all. There was plenty going on and in an epic like this is, it was never meant to be complete in its own right. All the webs GRRM weaves come together nicely, as I'm sure those in this book will. The complaint it's too slow, is like what many of Robert Jordan's critics would say ruined WoT, whilst the pace of the books slowed, the quality of writing, character depth and action is still there, the fact that characters disappear from books is what slows it down.

I don't understand Jordan's critics and I don't get GRRM's either, I agree the pace slows a bit but that is going to happen when there are as many plotlines going on with such rich characters as there are in a series such as A song of Ice and Fire. Personally I think it will finish in 7 books and it will be done by 2020.
Jim Kiley
73. Black Dread
Dany didn't find "some Dothraki"!
She found Khal Jhaqo, who raped and killed Eroeh after Drogo died. Dany swore revenge on him.
"Before I am done with them, Mago and Ko Jhaqo will plead for the mercy they showed Eroeh"

Whether she decides to enlist Jhaqo's help or feeds him to her dragon is a question for the next book.
john mullen
74. johntheirishmongol
I was so aggravated with GRRM I didn't buy the book right away, and if I didn't have a gift card, I am not sure I would have at all. So I just got around to reading it and it's got all the faults of the other books with none of the real strengths. It didn't go anywhere except in circles for a few hundred pages, and when it did, the big shocker wasn't that big anymore.

If Jon is really dead, why bother to write all the stuff about the Wall. It's all pretty pointless and annoying. Dany is supposed to be training her dragons and ruling but instead she looks weak and insecure. I suppose I will finish the series sometime, but I am in no rush anymore.
Brandon Lammers
75. wickedkinetic
@73 - I didn't catch that - she must kill him and steal back 'her' khalasar - now she's got a dragon and an army (and a food supply for her and her big black scaly puppy) - time to go to war

btw - I'm really hoping she gets to destroy Qarth before she turns around and takes over Westeros it'd be nice if she established a stable/free situation in the East before heading West... I also hope she does some flying around the ashes of her ancient homeland and collects some interesting artifacts a-la-the dragon-horn
Jim Kiley
76. Adorabell
It seems that people are focussing on parts of the story without thinking of other bits.
1) Jon Snow: It's very unlikely that he's dead. Mainly because Martin doesn't let the death of a character be unknown. Everyone who died did so openly and before the end of a book.
2) Linking up with Dany et al. The 3 is important to the Targeryens and looking at this historicaly we can see a potential reversal of the original Targaryen conquest with one girl and two boys. In this I'm leaning towards the idea that Jon is half Targaryen and half Stark.
3) One thing people seem to be forgetting is the prophesy. Why is it there? I'm guessing it has something to do with the upcoming Winter and the Others. There must be a reason why they are so well killed by obsidian. It would sort of make sence then with the three T's: The mother, the king, and the fighter.
4) Something that I think is important is the idea of a Stark in Winterfell. They always said that there must always be a Stark in Winterfell. Why? We know that the Starks are much more connected to the land than any of the other Houses. They have the blood of the First Men and they are traditionally the protectors of the whole continent.

I was thinking also about the gods. Most of the gods seem to be real, or to at least be a power of some sort, except for the sept. The Andals in general seem to be not quite in tune with the land. I'm guessing it's because it is not their land.
Michael Booth
77. Etherbeard
"I suppose I will finish the series sometime, but I am in no rush anymore." Are you GRRM?
Jim Kiley
78. RobertStrong
I know I am coming late to this discussion, but I have a few questions of mine own.

1) If Dany is infertile, as she believes herself to be, what is the point of her conquering anything; she can't leave an heir?
2) What happend to Sam? We haven't seen anything of him for a whole book, since we were introduced to faux-Pate.
3) On the subject of dead things coming back to life... we have Coldhands (is he Benjen?), the wights, Beric, Catlyn, the faceless men (is Pate one of them?), Robert Strong and the prophesy that "death itself will bend the knee, and those who die fighting for her cause shall be reborn".. does this mean all these dead people are really on Dany's side? Most didn't even know she existed..
4) What has happened to the Littlefinger/Sansa story? In the space of time it has taken her to go up the mountain and back down, Tyrion has been tried, escaped and travelled to the other end of the world...
5) Why has it taken so long for the Arbour's fleet to return to defend the Reach? Victaron's fleet has made it to the other end of the world in less time..
6) and so on and so on.. much and more.

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