My Thoughts About A Dance With Dragons
Posted by Alan Edwards
I finished George R. R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons last night. Part of me never wanted to start it at all. I had enjoyed the previous books, but my enjoyment of them had begun to steadily decrease with each passing novel. Not that the writing was bad or anything; on the contrary, I think for the most part he’s a very gripping writer. It just seemed that with every book the story got bigger and bigger to the point that it was difficult to imagine everything coming together in a nice cohesive package.
Admittedly, the HBO series didn’t help my enthusiasm, nor did the interminable wait for a book that 5 years ago he claimed was nearly done. My problems with the TV series I’ve mentioned before, and it left a bad enough taste in my mouth that I never even watched the last 3 episodes. The ridiculous price tag on the hardcover also made me want to wait for a while – seriously, 35 bucks for a book? It’s thick, sure, but it’s not a freaking college textbook. I actually picked it up at a bookstore once and nearly bought it, but the price tag made me gag and I put it back.
But when I saw it at BJs for twenty bucks, I picked it up. I sighed when I did it, but I bought it. It sat waiting for a couple weeks while I finished Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont – a fantasy story that’s good, but one that helps convince me that yes, I can actually write as well as published authors – and I finally started into it.
And now it’s official: I’ve been Jordaned.
There is no end in sight. I’ll keep any spoilers below a well-demarcated area here in case any of you care and haven’t read it, but I will make some general points before then. If you asked me what happened in this book, I would say that it boils down to one group of characters sailing in one direction, another group sailing the opposite way, some people staying put, and very few people doing anything particularly interesting. If you liked Daenerys, you probably won’t like her as much in this one. If you liked Jon Snow, his transformation into Rand al’Thor Lite will bug you (“I can’t have friends, I must be HARDER THAN STEEL”). If you liked Tyrion…well, be prepared to watch him moved around a lot, make quips, and ask where whores go.
There were times that reminded me of something I read about western writers in the past who got paid a penny a word, so that every gunfight had a long series of BANG! BANG! thrown in, since each was an easy penny earned. It felt like
Jordan Martin was being paid by the word (but I guarantee it was more than a penny), especially anytime it had to do with food. Paragraph after paragraph of food listings – “spiced eels in a rich and turgid brown sauce that smelled of peppers and honeyed citrus, served alongside a platter of spotted whitish-looking fish that reminded Gefeor of the trout that he would pull out of the streams of his youth and were presented with a side of roasted turnips that… – seriously, if you took all the food descriptions out of the book and put them together, you’d have a good 30-page pamphlet detailing part of the many-varied delicacies of Westeros and Parts East.
It was stuff like that that honestly made it feel like Martin doesn’t really want to be writing this anymore, so he just talked about whatever he likes. Judging from his pictures, the dude likes himself some food and so decided to spend lavish amounts of time describing it. Also, I felt at the end of this one that he was pretty pissed off at some women while he compiled this massive tome of Not Much Happening, Really. You’ve got a woman forced to march naked through the streets while people jeer at her and throw rotted food and shit at her. You get other women skinned to make a blanket. Other girls are run down by dogs and then their names are assigned to the next litter of bitches that get born to the pack that ate her. You get more descriptions of women having their period than is strictly necessary – and one is generally considered more than is strictly necessary by me, anyway – and women mooning over dudes for no particular reason that’s been established in prior books and make no freaking sense whatsoever.
That’s not to say there aren’t good parts to the book. As I said, he’s a gripping writer, so he kept me on the edge of my seat waiting for things to unfold. Unfortunately, not a hell of a lot gets unfolded. It was like Martin is sitting in front of you with a big Xmas present you’ve been waiting 5 years to get, and he slowly opens it in front of you, taking the time to carefully removed the wrapping paper, setting it aside after slowly folding it, examining the plain unmarked box for an interminable length of time, cutting the tape a bare inch at a time, then finally lifting the flaps, peering in, smiling, and then closing the fucking box and leaving again with it under his arm and you know it’s going to be another 5 goddamn years before you see what’s inside the goddamn box and you just want to punch him in the back of his goddamn head.
So that’s my spoiler-free thoughts. The spoily bits come next. I AM WARNING YOU ABOUT SPOILERS, SO BITCH NOT IF YOU READ ON.
Seriously, I don’t even want to hear about it.
Anyway, I’m not gonna rehash the story here, but I’m going to talk more about my thoughts behind some of the “action”, broken down by character.
Daenerys – Seriously, who pissed in Martin’s Wheaties? Whoever it was, it had to be a woman, since he takes it out on Dany. Let’s see, for 4 books she’s been through a lot and grown up quickly. She’s been married, been a strong and powerful khaleesi, lost a child, lost her husband, brought dragons back into the world, built an army, beat the shit out of a lot of nations, used her dragons to cement her place as a power in the world, and generally been a strong, kick-ass character. Then this book happened. Suddenly she can’t think because Daaaaaaario is in the room with her, and all she can think about is fucking this asshole all the time like she’s in fucking heat or something. Then she just decides, hey, fuck it, I’ll marry this dude so I can bring peace to this disease-ridden shithole I’ve decided to park my ass in for no good reason, oh, and I should probably lock up my dragons since a little girl has died, and I’m just gonna spent this book thinking about fucking and slavery and taking baths. Seriously, by the end, she was just fucking annoying, and that makes me pissed off at George for doing it. 1000 pages, and by the end, not a single thing happens in Meereen that was worth a flying bag of shit. Oh, Quentyn Martell got killed? OH NO! It only took me 400 pages to remember who the fuck he was supposed to be in the first place and why I might begin to care, but he’s still a minor fucking nothing character that could just as easily never been in the book at all and none of us would have missed anything.
Jon – Christ, I thought we were past Emo Jon cutting himself at the Wall. He can see through the eyes of his direwolf, but refuses to do it for some fucking reason. He gets warned to keep the fucking direwolf by his side for protection, so of course he has no fucking idea where it is half the time and the other half keeps it locked in his fucking room so that when someone decides to kill him it won’t be around. Let me tell you something – if I had a fucking direwolf that listened to my commands and I could essentially take partial control of and watch the world through its eyes and it was pretty fucking clear I was meant to have this wolf and it’s all destiny and foreshadowy and prophecy-ey and suddenly my big-ass powerful fucking guardian and protector and symbol of myself starts acting a little weird, maybe – just fucking maybe – I’m going to assume that there might be a reason for that and I’m gonna make sure his ass is with me everywhere I go. I am not going to lock him in my fucking room so I can get stabbed to death by a bunch of people who make it pretty clear for a long goddamn time that they don’t like what I’m doing. That said, I don’t think he’s dead – and if he is then Melisandre will bring him back to life. Now, if he is dead and gone, then I will by a plane ticket to wherever the fuck it is George lives, and I will punch him in the dick until my arm falls off. Not only because I like Jon, but because he then wasted my fucking time listening to him bitch about cold he is and how no one understands him and the fact that he’s a bastard and wah wah wah.
Stannis – Whatever. He’s probably dead. It would be like Martin to have us follow this dickhead around for years only to kill him off obliquely in some passing fashion. Asshole.
Theon – While the arc of him going from Reek back to Theon was pretty good, I got pretty fucking tired of Reek, Reek, it rhymes with repetitive and overdone. That and “A Lannister always pays his debts”, “Words are wind”, “You know nothing, Jon Snow”, and whatever other crutch phrases we get thrown at us constantly to the point of absurdity.
Quentyn – who?
Selmy – He’s cool. I can dig him. He got to do things besides give advice that gets ignored, which is nice.
Aegon – That little twist surprised me and I thought it was cool, which means he’s going to do a bunch of shit and then die early.
The Boltons – I just want these douches to die. Why is it that no one just fucking kills them both outright? They are clearly not sane human beings. Just kill them already.
Cersei – I hated her so much that I thought seeing her shamed and walking the streets naked and bald would bring me pleasure. I still hate her, but now I’m just tired of her. It’s a shame. She was a great villainess. But when she gets her mojo back, it’s just going to feel, I dunno, like deus ex machina or something. She should be done, but she won’t be, somehow. Whatever. Anyone with half a brain would have killed her by now.
Varys – OK, didn’t see that coming.
Tyrion – Sigh. Here’s Tyrion on a boat. Here’s Tyrion eating and making quips and asking where whores go. Here’s Tyrion on a boat. Here’s Tyrion playing chess. Here’s Tyrion drunk and asking where whores go. Here’s Tyrion on a fucking boat. Here’s Tyrion making quips and riding a pig. Here’s Tyrion saying, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” Here’s Tyrion thinking about his father and brother and sister. There: you have now read Tyrion’s chapters in the book in a fraction of the time I spent going though them.
Alys Karstark – A twist! The visions made us think it was “Arya” fleeing her marriage and coming to Jon for protection! Instead, it’s cleverly changed to someone we’ve never heard of and could give two shits about! Let’s marry her off to some nobody and move on! It’s like M Night Shyamalan wrote that part of the fucking book. I have no idea what the point of that was supposed to be.
Melisandre – I think she was better as a mysterious character that we never really were sure what her angle was, other than being really shitty at interpreting prophecy. I didn’t need a chapter from her point of view, but it’s a minor bitch.
The High Septon – Here’s where I knew I was being Jordaned. So this militaristic arm of the Church suddenly appears again. As if there wasn’t enough shit going on, now this gets added to the mix, and for what? I have no fucking idea. I think that whole plotline could be neatly trimmed right out and no harm, no foul, no point.
Asha Greyjoy – I like her, therefore she will be killed off-screen in an aside mentioned by a passing minstrel to an old whore in Braavos.
Victarion – Jesus H Christ, who really gives a rat’s ass at this point. Just more BANG BANG BANG filler.
Davos – I liked his bits. He’s still way out of his depth, though. At least he is as aware of that as we are.
Bran – I actually forgot he was in it. So, he meets the three-eyed crow. So that’s cool. He drinks stuff and sleeps a lot. Turns out he can look out through trees and see what’s around them. I imagine his future chapters will be fucking RIVETING.
Dorne – I like the Sand Snakes or whatever they’re called. Everything else is like watching wallpaper dry. “Look! See those fountains? We send our children to play there.” I know, old crippled dude, you told us that 7 times last book, and I still don’t give a rat’s ass. Oh, and I get it: the bodyguard has a really sharp axe. Check, got it, no need to belabor the point. Maybe when he does something with it, you can remind me that his weapon is sharp and that he’s really fond of it.
Gregor – I never thought he was dead. He’s not. He’s back. Yay. I guess.
All in all, I enjoyed the actual reading part it, mostly. Overall, though, the book felt like a punt – fill this bitch out with a lot of descriptions, pad the numbers, add 50 pages of errata no one gives a shit about, slap a $35 buck cover price on it, and let’s move some fucking UNITS, people. That’s what it felt like. A big-ass cash grab after the HBO show. Hey, George gotta eat too. Judging by what he writes about, he’s a hungry motherfucker, too.