Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 44 of A Dance With Dragons, in which I review the book, and to some extent the series, as a whole, and reflect on Things concerning it.
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Well, I suppose that first, I should attempt to sum up my thoughts about the for-now-final book in the ASOIAF series, A Dance With Dragons, which it turns out I have been reading for almost exactly a year now.
I have become extremely talented, these past few years, at avoiding any ASOIAF-related discussion, both on and off the Internet, but even I have managed to be aware, mostly through comments to my own posts, that the general consensus on ADWD is mixed at best. Certainly it was clear that a lot of people were irritated by the split timeline thing with the preceding novel, A Feast for Crows, mostly because it was obviously something of a jury-rigged solution on Martin’s part to the fact that a fully-integrated story would have been a 2,000-page monster that probably still wouldn’t have even been published yet. Or so I imagine.
And I can see why that would be frustrating to people who read ADWD, and indeed the entire series, like normal people do—i.e. all at once, instead of, say, in two-chapter weekly chunks over the course of years—but for me it really ended up being all of a piece. The last two books may have been disjointed and weirdly constructed to the normal reader, but for me the entire series has felt disjointed and weirdly constructed, due to the way I consumed it, and so that very much lessened any impact the split timeline may have otherwise had on me, I think. That said, I did sense that ADWD, and to some extent AFFC before it, lacked a certain je ne sais quoi compared to the first three books in the series—a dissipation of focus, perhaps; a certain amount of failure to achieve the symmetrical leitmotif of the earlier novels. However, I’m not entirely convinced that is the fault of the author, so much as it is the nature of the beast.
The beast being, of course, the on-going, multi-part, world-spanning, cast-of-thousands behemoth epic fantasy series. Martin is far from the first author to have flung himself at this particular windmill and found that it actually was, in fact, a giant.
The thing is, I can’t think offhand of any similar book series (i.e. one which told one story stretched to five novels or more) which didn’t eventually morph from the usually gloriously round, tight thematic structure of the opening novel or two (or three) of a brave and wonderful new story, to the later novels’ often rather pear-shaped trudge of just getting the damn thing told already.
Granted, I’ve hardly read all of the grand epic fantasy series out there; maybe there are some that manage to avoid this phenomenon. But let’s just say, of those I have read, this progression of events feels pretty familiar. And I’m beginning to think that this is perhaps not down to flawed writing on any of these authors’ parts, so much as it may actually be impossible to maintain thematic roundness (which is a term I have totally just made up and decided that I love, nyah) beyond a certain point—especially if the story is being published as it is written.
*shrug* I dunno. Maybe this is why so many sf writers try to stop at trilogies. (Even if they fail to actually do so.)
This is not to say I think Martin can’t wrestle his beast back on track; in my considered opinion, if anyone could do it he could. All other considerations aside, he is an amazing writer who deserves every bit of the success he has achieved and the accolades he has received. So while I wouldn’t say I have faith that he will be able to eventually end this series in a satisfying fashion, I do feel the odds of doing so are in his favor. And I’ll read it when he does.
However, that said, unlike a lot of people who have been waiting (and waiting and waiting) for ASOIAF to be finished (or even move forward, I suspect), I’m… kind of glad I’ll be getting to take a break from it. The writing in this series is, as I said, objectively amazing, but subjectively it’s become increasingly grueling for me to get through, emotionally. As anyone who’s been following this blog has probably noticed.
Now, don’t worry, there’s no need to start sending me therapist referrals or anything. As it happens, my tastes in entertainment tend to veer toward what a friend of mine refers to as “the grimdark genre” just as often as it does toward lighter, fluffier fare. I mean, one of my favorite TV shows of all time is The Wire, for God’s sake. Clearly I am not averse to a certain amount of grimness and nihilism if it’s done right.
But, you know, I’m not always in the mood for grimdark stuff. Sometimes I want to watch The Wire, and sometimes I want to reread Good Omens for the nth time. But unlike how I get to choose whether I’m in a The Wire place or in a Good Omens place in my leisure time, I was obliged to read my weekly chunk of ASOIAF whether I was in the mood for it or not.
And honestly, most of the time I was in the mood. But I wasn’t just often enough that eventually it started to get a little wearing.
So, I’m not done with the series by a long shot, and I’m sure that by the time Winds of Winter comes out, whenever that may be, I’ll probably be excited to jump back in and see what happens.
But for right now… yeah, I’m okay with having a breather.
I’m not quite at the breather stage, though, because we’ve got two more short stories to do!
Although, calling “The Princess and the Queen” a short story is something of a misnomer, seeing as I’m told it clocks in at about 35,000 words. The other story, “The Rogue Prince”, is much shorter, though. Ergo, I will be tackling “The Princess and the Queen” first, in three parts, and then I’ll probably do “The Rogue Prince” all in one post.
What happens after that is still up in the air at the moment. But don’t worry, I and TPTB at Tor.com will keep you informed.
So! Please join me next Thursday for Part I of my Read of “The Princess and the Queen”, from the anthology Dangerous Women, which is really something I should have owned long since, because HELLO. For those of you who want to read along with me, I have been told to stop at the sentence “The date he chose for the attack was the first full moon of the new year.”
Got it? Good! See you next week!