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A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin (2011) 1184 p.

A Dance With Dragons is the fifth and most recent of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, so I’m now up to date. I can’t help but wonder what the TV producers will do when they inevitably catch up to Martin in a mere three years’ time, unless they pull a Peter Jackson and decide to stretch some books out into multiple seasons.

A Dance With Dragons was initially meant to be one book, along with A Feast For Crows, but it grew too large and unwieldy to fit in a single volume. Rather than ask his editor to do his job and reduce some of the bloat, Martin split the story into two volumes in the most convoluted way possible – they run chronologically alongside each other, except A Dance With Dragons has all the best characters, and also runs maybe an extra 400 pages chronologically past the end of A Feast For Crows, so some characters from that book start popping up again. Not much, though – there’s only two chapters each from Cersei and Arya, and merely one from Jaime. Martin had some weak excuse about not wanting to cut the big book in half without a momentous climax, but neither of the two new books really has one anyway, apart from the end of Jon’s story in A Dance With Dragons. It’s not a huge issue, but it is irritating that he chose to split the book in the worst way possible.

Anyway. A Dance With Dragons is a better book than A Feast for Crows, simply because it has the better characters in it. Tyrion is on the run and in exile after murdering his father, and has probably the best arc in the book, as he copes for the first time in his life without access to power and wealth and learns what it truly means to be a dwarf. Daenerys is attempting to maintain her control over a city she has conquered in the east, Jon has been named commander of the Night’s Watch, and Stannis is marching south to take Winterfell from the usurpers of the North. The novel flags somewhat towards the end, as the focus largely shifts to Daenerys and the east, while I was always more interested in what was happening in the North – but overall it’s a solid book, probably the best in the series since A Clash of Kings.

There were two aspects of the novel that didn’t sit right with me, apart from its drawn-out conclusion in the far east which didn’t actually conclude anything. The first is Jon being commander of the Night’s Watch; this occurred at the end of A Storm of Swords, but it’s in A Dance With Dragons that we see him actually giving orders and making decisions and uneasily carrying the burden of leadership etc. I just couldn’t buy it. The guy is, what, 17? And he’s in charge of hundreds of men much older and with far more experience? Nope. The second issue I had was an egregious bit of retconning which seemed to stem from Martin deciding that he’d killed off too many of the kings in the War of Five Kings, and deciding to introduce a new claimant without a speck of foreshadowing.

Aside from these flaws, A Dance With Dragons is a solid iteration in an excellent fantasy series. I can’t wait to read The Winds of Winter in 2017.

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January 2013