This is going to be difficult for me to write, as I looked so forward to this book for so long, and have recommended the series to everyone I know. Twice.
*** SPOILER WARNING *** SPOILER WARNING ***
“A Dance with Dragons” is a disappointing read. Not disappointing within the context of the series, although the writing certainly isn’t as strong or as cohesive as the first or second books. Not disappointing within the fantasy genre, as it is still some of the stronger fantasy writing I’ve read.
It is disappointing because I am already scrambling to find a synopsis just so I can remember who everyone is and why they did what they did. Maybe it would have been more memorable if it hadn’t taken me months to finish. I am not a slow reader, but this read was a slog, and so I often was not interested enough to pick it up.
The major reason why I found it such a slog is because of the sheer number of PoV characters. The trouble with creating so many different PoVs is that each new one has to justify her or his existence by telling a compelling enough piece of the greater story. So because “A Dance with Dragons” (16 PoV characters, not including prologue or epilogue) runs concurrently to “A Feast for Crows” (12 PoVs) we have 28 PoVs to keep up with for this portion of the story.
In comparison, going backwards in time “A Storm of Swords” had 10 PoVs, “A Clash of Kings” had 9, and “A Game of Thrones” had 8.
I understand the scope of the story has expanded. I do. But when the story is spread thinly over so many people and places, the emotional impact lessens for me. The attack on Jon should have had the shocking impact of the Red Wedding for me, but was so jumbled and rushed that it did not.
And the outcome of that is only one of several major cliffhangers in the book. I find myself not overly concerned with how they will play out. To be honest, I have lost interest with most of the characters I once loved. I am no longer a Daenerys fan at all. I started out feeling disgusted by her backstory and then somewhat heartened by how she made the most of her crappy lot in life. Her motivations and actions in “A Dance with Dragons” are ridiculous at best — and she’s the one with the dragons! Sure, she is inexperienced in the ways of war, but she has approximately 43534957346560 people around her who give her the same advice over and over again and she conveniently disregards them all. And falls in love with the “bad boy” — who is the dullest lothario I’ve ever read — but marries for duty and is shocked, shocked I tell you, when her new husband tries to have her killed.
None of my other favorites had much to do here. Arya’s story arc is a long game, which means it is currently tedious. Cersei has become a parody of the power-hungry female trope, which is lame because I expect better writing from Martin by now. Tyrion’s chapters were all right, but his continuing fixation on Tysha seems disingenuous to me. I could barely read the Theon/Ramsay chapters because of their gratuitious violence. Asha Greyjoy is sadly underutilized, and there is only the briefest of mentions of Brienne of Tarth.
In short, I was hopeful that this book, as Part Two of “A Feast for Crows”, would be much better than Part One. It wasn’t.