Monday, June 4, 2012

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin


Seriously, George R. R. Martin????  I mean, seriously?????

That is what I want to say to the author.  After more than 1000 pages, if you count the appendix, I am getting kind of disgusted with this series.  I've been reading this book off and on more more than a month, and the payoff was basically zilch.  I love the world of Westeros and all the characters, but really, this was extremely time-consuming, confusing, and with very little payoff.

If you've read the books, you'll know some of what I'm talking about, and you don't want any spoilers.  If you haven't read the series, you probably haven't read this far anyway.  So, there's no point in much of a synopsis.  Suffice to say there are more adventures of the various denizens of Westeros, from multiple viewpoints, but not all of the characters.  If you are looking for resolution and answers, there are few, and we must keep waiting.

First, I have to say that of the five books in this series, this one took by far the longest for me to read.  As I mentioned in previous posts, I was also caught up in books for three different book groups, plus I'd been listening to a monster work by Dickens on audio simultaneously, so shame on me.  But this book just did not grab me and obsess me like the others, not even A Feast for Crows which isn't as good as the first three.  It took me more than a month, compared to less than a week each for each of the other books, and compared to the rest, A Dance with Dragons is kind of a slogfest.  Here are some of my problems with the book.

1.  Too many characters.  That's right, from the woman who loves Dickens and can juggle multiple plot lines and characters, this book has too damn many.  After four volumes and more than 3600 pages of this series already, with hundreds of characters, you'd think that GRRM would have created enough, right???  Wrong; so very, very wrong.  Each book is told from multiple viewpoints, and having mastered the major players in earlier books, GRRM has decided it's important to elevate a whole bunch of minor characters to leading character status, so the people who engaged and involved you earlier have essentially disappeared.  Instead of chapters focusing on eight or nine revolving characters, like the earlier books, this one has chapters featuring about sixteen!!!  Some of them get a lot of time, some, just a little.  Martin throws the reader a bone now and then with a short little chapter to keep you from throwing the book across the room, but I got hundreds of pages about minor characters about whom I don't give a tiny little rat's behind.  Why is he wasting my time with these people???

2.  Too much back story.  Not only does he constantly give us new characters, new travels, new adventures, there's tons and tons of back story and history and legends that I can't keep straight.  Sorry, George, I don't want to read about the legend of this goddess or this saint or the mythology of this new land.  I can hardly keep all these other people straight, and you want me to learn more?  It really seems like he's a little ADD.  Is he bored with all the important characters?  If you want to start a new series, fine, but please don't leave me hanging with all my favorite people.  At least don't pretend you're continuing the first series.

3.  Too many crazy names.  My biggest complaint about high fantasy in general is all the world building and all the new vocabulary.  At least most of the people in the original books had relatively easy names, like Jon and Robb and Arya and Eddard and Catelyn.  I can even manage Joffrey, Cersei, Tywin, Tyrion, Sansa, and Petyr.  Even the most exotic names, like Daenerys, Khal Drogo, and Jaqen H'gahr, fine.  But now we've moved into a whole new realm of weirdness with the land of Mireen and some really funky names that just tire me out.  Reznak, Hizdahr, and God help me, Yurkhaz zo Yunzak.  Yezzan zo Qaggaz!!  Seriously????  Is George Martin just trying to use up those high-scoring tiles in a A Game of Thrones Scrabble?  (He also loves names with apostrophes, which always irritates me.)  This book clocks in at more than 1000 pages, but fifty pages at the end are an appendix with names, so you can try and keep the characters straight.  Riiiiiiight.  Honestly, I think GRRM should have spent more time working on the story, and less time making up names for people.

4.  No map of the lands beyond Westeros.  The front and back end papers have a lovely and detailed map of Westeros with Kings Landing, Winterfell, the Wall, and the lands in between.  But half the story in the last two books (and parts of the other three) have taken place in other places -- Braavos, Mireen, Pentos, and on various sea voyages.  Don't you think it would be helpful to give us a map?  Where are these places, and how far away are they from Westeros?  Martin gives us 50 pages of character names, but no map?  Why not??

Anyway.  This book was a lot of work, and in the end, just a disappointment.  I admit I did know there are at least two more books on the horizon to finish the series, but basically, this book is 1000 pages long, and not much happens.  How is that possible?  I got sucked into this series a year ago after watching the excellent HBO adaptation of the first novel, and I've been saving this book for about six months.

Am I being too nitpicky?  Am I asking too much of the author -- but seriously, if the book is so complicated that I have to consult an online wiki while I'm reading it, then something is wrong here.  I love the characters and the land of Westeros, but I'm getting fed up.  And now I'll probably have to wait five years to find out what happens next.  If anything.

20 comments:

  1. Wow! I love your honesty! I just finished the first book this morning and started on the second one. Too bad this one was such a disappointment. Maybe I'll skip this volume and go to the next one when it's published. From what you wrote, you have every reason to be disappointed.

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    1. I'm probably going to be crucified by angry fantasy lovers, but I have to be honest. It isn't terrible, just disappointing. It just seemed like a lot of filler, when I wanted more answers about my favorite characters. And I'm not opposed to learning more about supporting characters -- there are some that I really enjoyed, but some of the stories are just frustrating.

      I'm not saying don't read it, but don't expect a lot of resolution. You may end up skimming a lot.

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  2. LOL I was just thinking maybe I should read this, since I've been into fantasy a lot lately, but those names have scared me off. hahaha. Jason says that all those names and the naming system come from Tolkien. He says he can always tell exactly who are the good guys, bad guys, less educated guys, beautiful guys, etc just by the name of the character, without knowing anything about the plot. He started pointing it out in several of the series I'd read, when I'd been completely ignorant. Made me laugh.

    You should try Brandon Sanderson. :D

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    1. Dickens does the same thing; in Bleak House, Tulkinghorn, Skimpole and Vholes are bad guys; Esther Summerson is good and her swain is Alan Woodcourt. I didn't notice it in the same way with this book, so hopefully he can enlighten me.

      After this I'll be taking a long break from epic fantasy. This wasn't too bad because I'd seen the first season of the TV series, so most of the world-building was done for me. I'd suggest trying the series to see if you like it first.

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  3. Maybe I will look out for the tv series. I loved your review though. I am sitting in a busy airport in Hobart, waiting for a delayed plane and so pulled out my netbook that I said I wouldn't bring with me but I have been thoroughly entertained in the best way while waiting in a boring place. Think I'll stick with my Penguin books, at least I have not seen a Penguin that is more than 1000 pages. Will look forward to see if this author turns up in the future on your blog here. Thanks, Pam

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  4. I'm glad I could help keep you entertained! I love Penguins too. Nothing like a good book (or three) to keep you busy during a boring layover.

    I've just started another great Penguin, Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. I need something completely opposite epic fantasy right now!

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  5. This sounds like a case where watching the TV series is better than reading the books!

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    1. I'm beginning to think this is the case. The first season was extremely faithful to the book, with a few things streamlined and condensed, and the second season is fairly faithful, with a few more changes, sometimes for budgetary reasons. I've heard the third book is being cut into two seasons. Don't know what they'll do when they catch up to books four and five if GRRM hasn't finished the next book.

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  6. I was really engaged by the first book in the series, and excited to read more since I felt like I'd gotten past the hardest part of the learning curve. It sounds like maybe not so much, which disappoints me. Not sure whether I'll continue with the series or not...I'll want to wait and see if the concluding novels make it worth it.

    I wonder if you've read any C. J. Cherryh novels. Her fantasy stories really took me by surprise, and I particularly enjoyed the Morgaine Saga.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean. After the first book (and the series) I thought I had a pretty good handle on the characters. The second book elevated some new characters to lead character status, but by the fourth book, I just didn't care about some of them.

      I haven't heard of Cherryh. After this, I think I'll need a break from high fantasy. I honestly don't think I have the energy to start a whole new series!

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  7. It is my personal revenge - I got the book and I don't want to read it. I just checked there are no Arya chapters (go Arya go!) and I decided I can wait. I agree completely with your review - the series has got more complex than it is advisable, whith more characters than it is necessary and more subplots than any reader is willing to accept. How very sad - I liked Westernoss in the first two installments a lot.

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    1. Arya is my favorite character too -- I'm getting really tired of Daenerys. But Martin does surprise the reader and give some updates on other characters that aren't in the beginning at all.

      Apparently A Dance With Dragons was the second half of A Feast for Crows, so the action is taking place simultaneously, not consecutively. Still, I think it's just too much.

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    2. Maybe on a rainy day I will deign to read it, who knows...;). Yes, it was supposed to be the second half of A Feast for Crows, a part I really didn't like. Too many Cersei chapters can do it to a reader.

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    3. Cersei is barely in this one, thank goodness. But I'm tired of Daenerys. I guess the title A Dance with Dragons must be taken literally, because I swear half the book was about her.

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  8. Never read him, but I really love your review! I like bloggers who tell it how they see it.

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    1. I'll probably get crucified by the fans who adore him. I think he's brilliant, and the world he's created is wonderful, but I think the story is just getting away with him.

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  9. *laughs* I tore through the first four books in the series shortly before this one came out. Then when Dance with Dragons came out and I was waiting for my hold on it to come in at the library, I started reading the Vulture.com recaps of it? And nothing the recaps said ever sounded interesting or plot-advancing enough for me to want to read the actual book. And in the end I canceled my hold. So your review makes me a bit sad but does not surprise me.

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    1. Some people do love it, and a lot of people thought it was better than A Feast for Crows. There's a big focus on Daenerys and she's not my favorite character -- I find her corner of Westeros to be the most confusing and least interesting, which may have had a lot to do with it. It is worth reading, but if you're like me you might be skimming a lot.

      I had not heard of Vulture.com, I really wanted to stay off the internet and didn't read any reviews or any wikis because I was afraid of spoilers. I'll have to look for it and see if I agree.

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  10. I've read the first four books in the series, but not this one - precisely because I was worried I'd feel like you did. I love the world that Martin has created, and I really do care about a lot of the characters, but even his earlier books have gotten so sidetracked with new characters (SPOILER: he has to replace the ones he's killed, after all...), new places, new storylines, new back stories, that I start to lose track. I'm really enjoying watching the series now, and don't think I'll go back to the books. At least not if the stories don't start coming together soon.

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    1. I wonder if he just can't figure out where the story is going. Is he stalling? There are so many great stories. I want to know about Jaquen H'ghar. And what about Jon Snow's mother??? Brienne? I need some answers!

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