Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Dance with Dragons ~ George R.R. Martin

For my other reviews of the books in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, see the following links:
Game of Thrones
I'm not sure how it happened but over the last few months, my husband and I have become the biggest Game of Thrones nerds.  I started reading the series about a year ago, by which point he'd already read through the whole thing, but something about seeing the new episodes as they aired this year and my having to wait to read the last two books due to grad school and just the general Game of Thrones mania that surrounds us at every turn sparked a huge, dorky obsession in both of us.  If you're not sure what this means, we are currently making plans to frame and hang some of the maps from the collection that GRRM released.  Yeah.  It's that bad awesome.

I think that A Dance with Dragons is probably my favorite book of the series thus far and not really for any technical reasons.  This is partially due to how much I got to see of some of my favorite characters: Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Tyrion, who were absent from the last book, meaning I haven't read about them since last summer, when I read the first three books in quick succession.  But it's more than that - this is the first book in the series thus far that I've been all in on.  I wasn't sure about Game of Thrones (and it took me a while to get into it), I still wasn't totally convinced by A Clash of Kings, I was too busy analyzing the form of A Storm of Swords, and I was just mad that GRRM didn't include so many of my favorite characters in A Feast for Crows.  But by A Dance with Dragons, I was totally committed.  I was invested in the characters, excited to find out what they were up to, eager to learn about the progression of Daenerys's rule.  By now, I've pretty much shed my critical view of the books (well, as much as an overanalyzer like myself can) and lost myself in them.

Of course, by all accounts, very little happens in this book.  While the previous books spent a lot of time setting up and then end with massive carnage (see my chess theory), this one just keeps setting up. The tension keeps rising but there's no resolution.  I don't really mind because GRRM has stuff set up so well, but I am mad that I'm going to have to wait who knows how long to find out what happens, since this is the last available book.   Okay, let's talk about my favorite characters and the antics they get up to in A Dance with Dragons:

Tyrion: As snarky and hilarious as Tyrion manages to be throughout the multitude of things that happen to him in this book (being transported across the Narrow Sea in a wine barrel, caught in a huge gale aboard a ship, and freaking enslaved), it's clear that he is lost.  He has to shed his identity as a Lannister to protect himself and has given up his family altogether.  Initially, he is a bit crazed by it all ("Where do whores go?") but then he just has to figure out his life and he's clearly grasping at straws, trying to reestablish a place for himself in the world.  He does pretty well for a hunted dwarf but still - a piece of him is missing.

Jon Snow: Jon is a bit of a mess, though it's totally understandable.  He's what, seventeen?, and has been given the command of those who "guard the realms of men" and the poor guy is just trying to figure out what to do.  On one hand he has a major threat from the north (demons and zombies!), on another he has wildlings who have long been considered enemies but are still human and also at risk, on another he has a self-proclaimed king who demands his support even though the Night's Watch isn't supposed to take part, and on another he has the men he commands questioning his every decision.  Jon is just a kid and no matter how much he tells himself he's in charge, it's still hard to tell his much more experienced elders what to do and to even believe in himself.  I like what Melisandre says about how he needs to invest in "the trappings of power" so that people will be compelled to follow him and it's just too bad that he doesn't listen.

Daenerys: Daenerys is in much the same boat as Jon.  Though she's claimed power for herself, she's still trying to figure out what to do with it.  Yes, she freed all those slaves, but without a plan for them or the new governance of Meereen and Slaver's Bay, it may all be for naught.  How many people have to die for freedom?  Like Jon, she's caught between a rock and a hard place: the wights are coming south for him, the slavers north for her.  All the while, she's trying to fit her experiences into vague prophecies that haunt her, much as Cersei did in the previous book.  It's hard to move forward when you're in fear of it and instead she stagnates and is nearly lost.

Part of what I love about Jon Snow and Daenerys is that they are the only two characters in this series who really seem to value human life for it's own sake.  Jon is willing to rescue the wildlings because they are people, first and foremost, and Daenerys is willing to risk all and potentially sacrifice her claim to Westeros to end slavery.  These are some pretty awesome character traits, even if neither is quite sure how to accomplish these goals.  Maybe spoilers ahead?  Read at your own risk, I guess.  So there's this theory that I came across on this amazing video about House Stark that is kind of awesome: that Jon Snow is actually the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and Ned Stark (who was all about honor and never would have had a dalliance) claimed him as his own when he founds his sister's body to protect her honor.  It actually makes total sense, right?!  That would make Jon a Targaryen (and the third head of the dragon) and would be ridiculously awesome.  It could also help explain why he an Daenerys, who would be his aunt, are so similar.    Of course, with what happens at the end of this book (SOB!), who knows what will happen.  But it's an interesting theory and I can't wait to see if it pans out.

Which of course means that GRRM is going to have to actually finish the next two books (which he claims will be the end of the series but originally this was supposed to be a trilogy so who knows).  In the meantime, I'll have to sustain myself on sample chapters and the TV show.  Hurry up, GRRM!


  1. My husband & I are total nerds about this series too. We have this print in our bedroom:

    I love Tyrion in general, but in this book he seemed to be GRRM's 'wander aimlessly' character so he did kind of annoy me. I like the Jon theory but I think perhaps it's too obvious?

    1. Lol nice! Love that we're not the only nerds!

      It does seem kind of obvious once it's pointed out, but it had NEVER occurred to me before. Those are the kinds of twists I like - the ones that are staring you in the face the whole time but that you never realize. Definitely better than a certain character who we've been told is dead since the beginning of the series suddenly not being dead. Because meh. That's just too easy. You could also claim that it was Ned Stark's identical twin brother who was beheaded.