Friday, July 22, 2011

A Dance with Dragons

I think if I had been reading this series all along and had been waiting for this book for six years, I'd be a little disappointed. Luckily, I was waiting for less than two. While a bit of that feeling is still there, overall I loved the book while I was reading it and just enjoyed seeing more of that world. The Game of Thrones TV series is a worthy adaptation, but there's only so much you can show in ten hours, and getting back into the books, I was reminded of the almost absurd amount of detail within the writing. People make fun of George R. R. Martin for being fat, and he calls himself a "talented eater". His passion for food definitely shows up in the book, as pretty much every meal a character gets within sniffing distance of is described in detail. It's something I didn't really notice before, but after it was pointed out, it was kind of funny to see how much time is spent on just what people happen to be eating while wars are planned and secrets are revealed. It's not just the food that gets a lot of attention, pretty much everything you could want to know about the world is spelled out, from family trees to clothes to heraldry, sometimes repeatedly. It could have resulted in tedium, but I love the setting as much as anyone, and I love the focus it gets in these books.

The story definitely slowed down during the fourth and fifth books, which take place mostly in parallel. After a certain point characters and locations from the fourth book start appearing again, though generally it's just to give us a quick update on their situation before jumping back to the main threads of the story in this volume. The problem with the book is not the world count, or the increasingly large number of subplots sprinkled all over the world, it's just that not quite enough forward progress seems to be made in most areas. I think these two books came out of a planned skip forward in the series' timeline that ended up not happening, and there's a feeling of waiting in many of the characters' stories. Some POV characters are in positions of authority and mostly just try to manage their current situations, others make an expected progression in their personal arcs and then just drop out of the book completely.

There doesn't seem to be much of a climax to the story, things do get pretty exciting and even significantly game-changing near the end, but because of the staggered way all of the plots end up finishing, it sort of feels like Martin just decided to stop writing at a certain point after failing to find a suitable climactic event. I know he has a fairly significant amount of the next book already written, and I think he probably just cut it off to keep it to a semi-reasonable word count. Not that the cliffhangers he set up aren't intriguing and good fodder for speculation during the wait for the next book, it's just the way the story has swelled over the years make it hard to have everything seem totally cohesive. All that said, I had a great time reading the book, and continue to hope and believe Martin has some sort of plan that he's driving toward. He recently admitted that he might have to write three more books instead of two to wrap up everything, but if that happens, I'll try to appreciate the extra time spent in Westeros more than I rue the extra years of waiting for the ending.

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