A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Cover Concept by Lorenzo Princi, 22 April 2012

A Dance with Dragons

Author: George R.R. Martin

Reviewed by Lorenzo Princi

A Song of Fire & Ice is the only epic Fantasy series I have read other than The Lord of The Rings as I tend to stay away from serialised format reading. I prefer to know how much I will be reading, in the case of The Lord of The Rings, the whole story can be read as one book straight through. However in the case of A Song of Fire & Ice, it isn't complete and there is a certain frustration in not knowing when, if or how it will end even after having read 5000 or so pages.

For the first part of the fifth installment, the story doesn't take off where we left off but rather goes back to a time around the starting point of the previous book and with a Tarantino style approach, tells us what was happening in the mean time to other characters we had stopped tracking in A Feast of Crows. Once we are caught up with all that and the roads merge, the story begins to continue proper. That isn't to say that the opening half of the book is revision, far from it, the perspective of different characters gives us insights to what was really going on in A Feast of Crows and in true Martin style, nothing was as it initially seemed. This does help to clear a few things up as well as give Martin license to throw in his vintage twists, turns and surprises.

The bulk of the opening half focuses on Daenarys and her suitors, as men from all across the world race to win her hand in marriage (not neccessarily her heart) for various political reasons. It is her story and particularly that of Tyrion, who had gone missing in the previous installment that hints at the popularity of the TV show is starting to influence the books. A Dance With Dragons being the first book released since the show began and 10 years or so after the previous book. Elsewhere, Jon is doing his best to maintain control of the Wall in his position as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch while his half sister Arya Stark continues her training in Bravvos while Stannis Baratheon attempts to re-unite the North in order to make his assualt on the Iron Throne a second time. Martin does well to revive the plot lines of all the main characters which went missing in the previous book and this does help give the book a sense that the story is moving into its closing stages, even if there are still a few more books to come.

The continuing theme of transformation and defomity is very prominent in this book as Arya Stark goes by many guises as she continues her training as an assassin by the House of Black and White in Braavos. Similiarly, Theon Greyjoy transforms from the Prince of the Iron Islands into Reek, disfigured and insane through torture.

As with all books in the series there is simply too much going on to do the story justice in a review and anyone who has invested in the series thus far will want to finish it. Overall, I found this installment to be the least enthralling (in the page turner sense) and took me longer to read than it probably should have, saying that, it is also perhaps the longest book in the series (along with A Clash of Kings). Perhaps it needed some further editing to make it a little snappier, or perhaps Martin felt the need to add revision simply because it had been so long since the previous books had been written. On that note, being so long between drinks, Martin is clearly suffering from too many ideas. The world he has created is limitless and I guess he can't resist adding a new incredible character here and there, even if it means another loose end to tie up later.

Overall the book fits very well within the series and has Martin's signiature torturing of his characters, yet nothing seems too outragous in the unique world he has created. Perhaps the book's main positive was the focus back on the original characters missed so dearly by readers in the previous book such as Jon Snow, Tyrion and Daenarys. It is also the first book in the series to leave the reader with a sense of what is really going on and the last paragraph paints a picture for the whole series thus far, rather than the cliff hangers which have finished the previous books. So perhaps not the most entertaining, but perhaps the most important book in the series so far.