The Designer’s Drugs: George R. R. Martin – A Dance with Dragons


Medium: Literature

Stimulus: George R. R. Martin – A Dance with Dragons

Anno: 2011


It’s a strange idea that a book can be a thousand pages long and still feel like it isn’t explaining everything.  As I read through this monstrous – in size and often in content – book, I kept noticing plot threads that were briefly brought up and then dropped, characters who would show up for a chapter or two and then fade out of the book completely, and some chapters told through the perspectives of characters that didn’t really gel with the rest of the story.  There’s also a severe inclination toward variations of the statement “He was not wrong.”

The overall feeling of A Dance with Dragons is that it’s a series of cliffhangers.  It’s very exciting, but it also feels the most intermediate and least self-sufficient book in George R. R. Martin’s massive Song of Fire and Ice series.

All of this illustrates what I feel is the awkward point in Fire and Ice – the fourth and this, the fifth book in the series which divided the narrative in two.  The previous book, A Feast for Crows, fixated on how the evil queen in the capitol was a huge bitch, whereas A Dance with Dragons is more concerned with what’s going on in the rest of the world.  Eventually the split gets more or less mended in Dragons and everyone goes forth into the terrible winter together, but most of this tale is completely divorced from its predecessor.

Despite my issues with the book’s technical aspects, I think Dragons is a far more satisfying book than Crows.  Focusing on Queen Bitch was an easy way to draw heat in the preceding book, but it kind of drowned out the rest of the characters.  Here, the points of view are a little more balanced between a trio of story arcs: a dwarf on the run, a watchman getting ready for a monster war, and the Abe Lincoln Dragon Queen getting bogged down in cultural relativism.

Most of the supporting characters do a good job in fleshing out the rest of the outside world, but there was one character in particular who I thought became amazing.  A few books back saw a ward of the Starks (i.e. the “good guys”) sent as an envoy to his homeland, where he is degraded into switching sides and seizing Stately Stark Manor.  He gets out-bastarded by a psycho killer, and for a long time nothing more is said of him.

Since then, our insecure pseudo-traitor has festered in Psycho’s dungeons, tortured into the faintest shell of his former self.  He’s crippled, stinking, nameless Stockholm Syndrome in skin – and he’s losing a lot of that, too.  His entire story in Dragons is this terrible and softly triumphant journey back to being able to call himself by his old name – and damn if it doesn’t make the whole book.

A Dance with Dragons is mostly setup and little solution, but the War and Peace-sized setup is largely brilliant.  The awkwardness is over.  Let the stride resume.

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