Ohhhh at last! The long awaited fifth book of my beloved Song of Ice and Fire series. Get ready for a long post. Granted, I didn’t have to wait as long as some of you (the full five years) because I had discovered the series only two years ago, but I was just as excited to dig into this book as the rest of you. I love the series and I really enjoyed this book as well, though I am not without some negative news.
Some background information: A Feast For Crows (book four) and A Dance With Dragons (book five) were originally meant to be the same book, but due to the length, it was split into two books. The book was not split in half chronologically though, but rather, half of the characters’ POVs were in one book, and the other half in the second book. So actually the events of Feast and Dance happen side by side. Well, up to around the 600-page mark of Dance, then the timelines come together and move on from there. With all that being said, I think the fact that I was less enthusiastic about Feast than the first three books contributed to me also feeling less enthusiastic about Dance since they were meant to be all in the same book. Now, don’t get me wrong — I really liked Feast and I also really liked Dance, as that is what I mean when I give a rating of 4 (Dance has a slightly lower 4 than Feast, for me). I just don’t feel book four and five aren’t as good as the first three. Still wonderful books … but not quite the same.
(There are spoilers in the rest of this review — you have been warned!)
Unless you’re also a reader of the series, a plot summary of Dance will only be confusing without the context of the overarching story, but for those of you who are readers — Dance consists mainly of the chapters of Jon Snow, Tyrion and Daenerys, Theon and some others, who were not included in Feast. These are some of my most favourite characters, so I was very excited to be reunited with them. Jon Snow is still at the Wall and dealing with King Stannis trying to boss the Night’s Watch around. He also has to make a difficult decision of whether or not to ally with the wildlings to fight their common foe, the Others. Tyrion Lannister has been sent across the narrow sea to Pentos (hello again, Illyrio!) by Varys to help him escape the manhunt his sister, Cersei, has set on him. He’s trying to get to Daenerys, supposedly to help her exact revenge on his own family, but ends up getting captured as a slave instead. Daenerys herself is stuck in Meereen, unwilling to leave her new people to slavery and hunger, despite a bunch of people telling her that she’ll never get back the Iron Throne for her family if she just sits in Meereen all day. Some of the Meereen people want her gone as well.
That’s pretty much all I’m going to say, plot-wise. There’s just way too many things happening for me to properly summarize the book, but that is the gist of what was happening to these characters in the same timeframe as Feast. After the 600-page mark, the story moves past Feast’s timeline and we are reacquainted — briefly — with some other favourites, like Arya and Jaime and Cersei, for example. Just a few chapters each though. No Sansa, Catelyn or Samwell, etc.
I really did enjoy this book, there is no mistake about it. I love being reacquainted with the characters, I love finding out what’s happening to them. When you compare where the characters were when they first began in Game of Thrones to where they are now in the story, it is really quite shocking, and makes me realize just how epic and grand the scale of everything is in this story. I’ve even started liking characters I never really cared for before, like Theon … although maybe I’m just feeling really sorry for the poor guy, now that he’s been kicked off his high horse. Or I’ve been influenced by the TV show and Alfie Allen‘s acting.
Speaking of characters, I’ve read some people are a little upset that the author is “bringing dead characters back to life” or “Hey! Just kidding! He’s not really dead!” I admit, the author does seem to do this for some characters, but I think the character everyone was upset about coming back to “life” was Aegon, because he is 1) an important character and 2) proclaimed dead for the last four books. However, there have been theories around for years that baby Aegon is really alive, so I don’t think this is really out of the blue — only if you never thought about it, or came across such theories. I actually think it’s really clever. But yeah, for some of the other characters, I can see the “Just stay dead!” line of thinking, but frankly, those other characters aren’t nearly that important, so I don’t really care.
I think the thing I noticed the most in Dance was the plot. I know some people will find Song of Ice and Fire‘s plot just plain confusing, but I embrace that complexity and enjoy unraveling it. The thing I noticed though, at least in comparison to the earlier books, is that the plot seems to be slowing waaaay down. The author is taking a lot of pages to describe … not much. Daenerys spends a lot of chapters hanging around Meereen and thinking about whether to get a husband. I don’t see the point of the Victarion chapters because he never really did anything to contribute to the plot in Dance. In fact, he doesn’t even reach his destination in this book, it’s just all about him sailing. I dreaded Victarion’s chapters, truthfully. There’s also a bunch of chapters involving Quentyn Martell sailing to Daenerys, which I find kind of unnecessary. I’m sure those chapters could have been skipped to the part when Quentyn finally meets Daenerys. You might not really notice the lack of actual plot progression in Dance until you actually sit back and try to remember what has happened to each character. And then you realize … not a whole lot. Honestly, I think Dance has too much ‘fluff’ in it and could have been shortened so the plot actually feels like it’s progressing at a decent pace.
I really enjoyed the ending, even though it was kind of almost shocking to see Varys appear after almost an entire book without him. I’ve never really been a fan of Varys, but what with the whole Aegon-is-really-alive business going on, I am starting to wonder if I was hasty in brushing him aside as a minor character in the beginning. It’s a very intriguing ending. As for individual POV endings, I must admit … I think they were poor cliifhangers. Jon Snow’s in particular; I’m sorry, but you have to be a moron to think that Martin is actually killing off Jon Snow. It ends with Jon Snow maybe dying, but we all know that there is NO way Jon is going to be dead. It will completely ruin all the plot that’s been happening at the Wall, making it absolutely meaningless, so of course he will survive. I don’t know why Martin chose to end it like that, it’s more aggravating than suspenseful.
I have my pros and cons with Dance, but there are generally more pros. I disagree with those who think you can just skip Dance as not much seems to happen — things happen, it’s just slow. I am not disappointed by the series’ direction or anything, just the pacing. I do wish for a tighter plot next time though. Hopefully that next time won’t be too far away. I can’t wait for The Winds Of Winter.