In the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, we learn what happens to all those characters and then JESUS GODDAMN CHRIST WHAT THE FUCK! Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read A Dance With Dragons.
So, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I did not post predictions for this book. There are two reasons for that: First of all, like…half? Yes, about half of what I predicted for A Feast For Crows was rendered moot because those characters weren’t even in the book, so I wanted to preserve those precious, hope-filled moments as predictions for this book. Secondly, I read the prologue of A Dance With Dragons and reasoned that it was totally fine to then write the rest of any predictions I had after that. Then I read another chapter. Then I read five. Then I couldn’t stop. Then nine days later I finished it. WOOPS WHAT HAVE I DONE. I mean…seriously I read that book in under nine days. This was on top of reading The Hobbit, watching Battlestar Galactica, and working a full time job. I SACRIFICED EVERYTHING FOR THIS BOOK.
I blame most of that on the radically different tone and narrative flow of this book when compared with A Feast For Crows. I can now see why most people feel AFFC is the weakest book. It’s been an interesting perspective to power through these books in just around two months because it all feels a lot more complete and not as fragmented as it did for many fans who followed these in real time. In hindsight, though, I feel like AFFC was like a giant chess game, and this book is the completion of it. Martin had to set up so many things to deliver moments in this book that would provide the narrative power he wanted; because of that, AFFC feels so much slower and incomplete as a novel.
Plus, this book focuses heavily on Dany, Tyrion, and Jon, and the three of them are responsible for so much action in this series that it’s hard not to feel like their stories are much more urgent than what happened in Westeros. That’s not to say there aren’t problems with their stories–Tyrion’s in particular–but I certainly was completely engrossed by ADWD.
I’ll go through my unused predictions first before breaking off into a more proper review:
- Tyrion Lannister is headed for the Wall. Why not meet up with Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon? He just betrayed the Lannisters in the worst way possible, so it makes sense he’d head to people he might be of service to. LOL WHAT. Oh god, I mean, he did head to serve Daenarys, but yeah. No Wall for Tyrion.
- DAVOS. My onion knight, i love you dearly. I think that he’ll be killed by an Other and I will never forgive GRRM for it. HE ISN’T EVEN AT THE WALL. Oh god, his “death” in AFFC was faked! OMG OMG. Wyman Manderly, you devil. Oh god, he knows were Rickon is WHERE IS THAT BOY IT’S BEEN THREE NOVELS WITHOUT HIM NOW. I miss Osha, too.
- We will find out what the HELL happened to Theon Greyjoy. WHERE THE FUCK IS HE. OH MY GOD REEK. Leave it up to George R.R. Martin to take a character I despise, do horrible things to him so that I actually feel bad about hating him so much, and then REDEEM HIM WITH A JUMP INTO THE SNOW. He can’t be dead, right? JESUS CHRIST THOUGH. Fucking Ramsay Bolton, I SWEAR you are too much to deal with.
- Okay, I didn’t get it last time, so I’m begging for it now: PLEASE, JUST ONE CHAPTER FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ASHA GREYJOY. YES PLEASE GIVE ME A MILLION CHAPTERS FROM HER POINT OF VIEW. I know I counted it last time BUT ALLOW ME THIS POINT. Especially since her last POV chapter in this book is when GRRM actually reunites siblings for the first time ever and it’s not a joke and I almost cried I was so happy. Even better, this time, Asha did not recognize her brother, a complete flip from what happened in A Clash of Kings.
- oh god JON SNOW ON THE WALL. omg he’s fucking LORD COMMANDER AND SHIT. I can’t even goddamn GUESS what the hell is going on. But let’s try: Mance Rayder will escape from captivity. Nope. Instead, he’ll be executed, only NOT, and then he’ll be sent to Winterfell, and then Jon gets a raven that says Stannis was defeated and Mance was captured and THIS IS A RUSE, RIGHT. And then…wait, I’ll get to that later.
- Someone will blow that horn thing that’s supposed to bring down the wall and it will work.
- then disaster
- then how will i survive. Not even close. Goddamn.
- Bran, you are in hiding. What are you doing? I have not the slightest damn clue what’s happening to him. Um….he will…um….nope. I have nothing. Nothing at all. We’ll just count this as a strike against me right off the bat. HOLY FUCK BRAN’S STORY. He found the Children of the Forest and the three-eyed crow and I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE ALL OF THIS. Also, few things are sadder than Bran enters the weirwoods and sees his father in the woods outside Winterfell. jfc I miss you, Ned Stark.
- DANY. DANY. DANY. How many ways do I love you, Dany? So, she’s remaining in one place to rule Meereen, and Jorah has been banished. OH GOD. Well, here’s my first prediction for her: I think she’ll make a terrible mistake because she has no one to stop her anymore. Nope. Dany’s story in Meereen is interesting because it’s such a polar opposite to Cersei’s, especially in the sense that she’s a woman ruling a nation but she doesn’t make the same horrific mistakes as Cersei does. Again, her story does subvert the White Savior trope, as it’s shown that her mere presence and good intentions don’t combine to make everything a fairytale wonderland. There is a distinct clash of culture here, especially as Dany tries to oppose standard customs in the (once) slaver city. On top of that, she’s forced to choose whether to stay and serve her nation or return to Westeros; the choices she makes do have disastrous consequences, especially when she weds Hizdahr zo Loraq and it comes to light that he actually tried to poison her. (Also, I did NOT expect her to marry him; I kept expecting something to delay or postpone it.)
- I think that by the end of the book, she’ll be able to ride her dragons. JESUS IT IS THE GREATEST SCENE OF ALL SCENES EVER. I was blown away by Dany riding Drogon out of the fighting pits. It was a long time coming, and the chaotic nature of it made the moment so much more exciting.
- Someone’s face will get melted off by a dragon. Quentyn Martell.
- ONE CHAPTER FROM VARYS’ POINT OF VIEW. JUST ONE. PLEASE. NOW I NEED IT MORE THAN EVER. That fucking epilogue. GRRM HOW DARE YOU DO THIS TO US. Team Varys, forever, by the way. What a HERO. He seriously does whatever is best for the realm HE IS NOT FUCKING AROUND.
- Stannis. And let me add to that: Melisandre will do it. She’s clearly vying for some sort of power, and he’s the only one standing in her way. Lol nope. But Melisandre warned Jon Snow and she was right.
- And my last prediction: A chapter from the perspective of Ramsay Snow. Because we keep reading about him secondhand, and it’s about time we heard from the man himself. I want to take this back because I find nothing redeeming or fascinating about Ramsay Bolton. What a disgusting, revolting human being.
So, what does that add up to? Four right? Why do I even try at this point?
A lot happens in this book, obviously, and I’d like to tackle each of the main characters to talk about where GRRM has taken them by splitting the second half of this review up by each of the main POVs that we get. OMG HERE GOES.
One of the biggest complaints that I have about A Dance With Dragons is that, and most especially in the case of Tyrion, the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere. In my brain, this book and A Feast For Crows are like the middle part of a trilogy, so I am holding on to the hope that all of this is absolutely necessary, that one day I’ll look back at Tyrion’s story here and feel it was integral to where GRRM was eventually headed. I think it’s all the more disappointing because, until his last two POV chapters, it seemed to me that he was setting things up so beautifully.
The man is in an interesting place, exiled across the Narrow Sea to Pentos entirely by the Spider’s doing in order to avoid execution. Because he has to stay “hidden,” I do adore what GRRM does with Tyrion. He’s so used to having the freedom of his name to basically say and do as he pleases, though he admittedly started losing that at the end of A Storm of Swords. Being a fugitive on the run, he has to learn to keep his mouth shut, to do things he would never consider doing, and to face his own sense of pride. I honestly love it when authors take their characters to uncomfortable places, and GRRM doesn’t avoid this at all.
Seriously, Tyrion first has to travel the Griffs (which HOLY SHIT PLOT TWIST AMAZING), then joins up with Penny and Jorah, then is SOLD INTO SLAVERY WITH THEM, then joins the Second Sons, and JESUS CHRIST. A lot of this deals with Tyrion’s sense of pride: is he too proud to perform for others? How does his identity tie into the fact that he’s a dwarf and merely entertainment for most people? Does he react poorly or positively when forced to spend an extended length of time with another dwarf?
GRRM doesn’t strip away Tyrion’s sharp wit or tongue (I MEAN SERIOUSLY HE FIGURED OUT WHO THE GRIFFS WERE WHAT THE FUCK), but it’s the most we’ve seen him have to hold a thought back than ever before. These are things I want to read about! It’s this sort of exploration of his character that fascinates me so much about these books and it’s why I’m perfectly fine with things being “slow.” While I’m certainly interested in the larger story, I’m become so enamored with the characters that I find myself more intrigued with how they interact with the ever-changing world around them.
At the same time, there’s something disappointing about how Tyrion’s story just ends by the completion of A Dance With Dragons. I am sort of surprised that I thought Tyrion would head to the Wall after he killed Tywin; that doesn’t make much sense at all, in hindsight. It’s far more logical that he’d leave Westeros entirely to seek out Daenarys, and, given the epilogue of ADWD, it’s even more sensible that Varys would send him to a Targaryen. (Seriously, the man does what’s best for the realm, does he not?) But what I’ve liked so much about each book is that GRRM takes a character, puts them through hell and shows us how they cope with it, then dumps them out in an entirely new place with a new direction to head in. Something just doesn’t feel right about Tyrion’s story in this book ending with the Second Sons. I was so excited for him to get to Meereen. Did I expect him to meet up with Dany? OF COURSE NOT. Do characters in this series ever actually get to where they’re going? At the same time, his end is so abrupt and not in a way that makes me think this is an intentional or thematic choice. What has changed for Tyrion? Where is he headed? It’s like his big “moment”–the ones he’s had in the first three books–is only a few chapters away, but GRRM decides to cut things off early. Why? Why prevent this from happening?
It’s weird for me to say this, though, because I lack the full scope of his character, so I know that I’m already in trouble before I’ve started. By the time The Winds of Winter comes out, I could be eating my words because I’ve horrifically misjudged this. I’m okay with that! I want to be wrong. But it just feels…weird? God, I don’t even know how to describe it properly. Does this make sense?
MY QUEEN MY QUEEN I LOVE YOU. I’ve heard that people were really unhappy with her story, but JFC I LOVED IT SO MUCH. First of all, there is a brilliant parallel between herself and Jon Snow, who both must “rule” their own people and those who belong to a different culture than their own. The difficult thing that we as readers have to deal with is the idea that Dany banning the slave trade has negative repercussions. And like, we can all agree that slavery is bad! It is a thing that is not very good! Yet at the same time, I think GRRM continues to chip away at the White Savior trope, this idea that just because Dany believes herself to be more civilized and “just” than the people she has conquered doesn’t mean that her queendom will be magically fixed and perfect.
That’s the moral grey area she’s thrust into and, like a lot of what’s happening in Westeros, Dany has her own complicated set of political forces to deal with. I am constantly impressed by how complex and immersive the political intrigue is in this series, and I think that having to create that entire environment in Essos on top of everything in Westeros is just astounding to me. That’s not to say I don’t side-eye GRRM for still keeping a lot of the same tropes about non-white nations in his book and not challenging them. Most of the weird, difficult-to-pronounce names all belong to those across the Narrow Sea, and most of them happen not to be white; most of the culture surrounding them sets these people up as the “other” to what’s standard for all the white people in the story.
Which isn’t to say that GRRM doesn’t engage these things, and I think he does do it well through Dany, but I think I’d like to have some of this story told from the perspective of a character from the east. We see these cultures through the eyes of a white character who thinks a lot of what the people do in Astapor and Meereen is “uncivilized” and “brutish” and “barbaric”; we have no opinion from people who were brought up in this culture, and I’d like to see that.
Still, that’s not the only problem she faces; I figured that, due to the title of this book, Dany’s dragons would finally have to take center stage in terms of the major conflict, and OH BOY DOES MARTIN DELIVER. I knew once the dragons were revealed at the end of A Game of Thrones that he wouldn’t have them raining terror down for a while; they had to grow, and Dany would eventually have to find a way to tame them. And then all that shit happened in A Storm of Swords and faces were melted and shit got so goddamn real that it made me wonder where GRRM would take them next.
OH HOW ABOUT THEY BURN A CHILD. or how about DROGON ROAMS THE COUNTRYSIDE BURNING THE THATCHED-ROOF COTTAGES.
I think that a lot of her story in this book is about control: how much control does she actually have? Can she maintain that control as one of the only women ever to hold Meereen? Can she control her dragons, and can she even control her own court? Which, by the way, increasingly becomes more and more full with suitors, who she gracefully and beautifully rejects because she does what she wants. Well, to a point, that is, when she marries Hizdahr zo Loraq, in one of the more bewildering plot twists GRRM has ever given us. I honestly kept thinking right up to the wedding itself that something would happen to prevent the marriage from occurring. Seriously, when has a wedding proven to be a good thing in this series? Shockingly, though, the wedding is a success; Dany is able to pacify the Sons of the Harpy through it and attempt to give peace back to Meereen after the resistance had killed so many of her men for closing the fighting pits. (Well, and there was the pale mare plague, too, which makes me want to go back and read every prediction made in the series ever, because not a single one has ever been wrong.)
I guess it’s just…a confusing thing to happen? I suppose I don’t really know how I feel about it, except that I know that Daario is wonderful and beautiful and I was so happy that GRRM finally included a sex scene with a woman that wasn’t HORRIFIC and instead portrayed her as ENJOYING SEX. But holy cow, does this book become incredibly chaotic at the end because DROGON COMES BACK AND DANY RIDES HER DRAGON and it is legitimately one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. I did not expect it at all and it is beautiful and thrilling and YES PLEASE.
At the same time, Dany’s end is abrupt like Tyrion’s, though it doesn’t suffer from the lack of purpose that I felt his had. It’s clear that she’s entered a new phase of her life, albeit a mighty confusing one, and…no, seriously, I have no idea how on earth she’s going to get out of this.
As I said before, there’s a wonderful unspoken parallel between him and Dany. Jon succeeds where she fails, and I think the key to how Jon was able to navigate the wildlings and the Knight’s Watch was that he understood the wildlings. He engaged them in a way that acknowledged that their culture was different, but no less valid than his own. Everything is to an extent, of course, because he clearly underestimates some of his own men in the process, and the union is far from perfect. On top of that, King Stannis’s presence is hardly beneficial to him for the most part. The Night’s Watch is sworn to no allegiance, but Stannis pushes it constantly. GOD IT IS SO IRRITATING. Surely you understand this, sir, SO WHY DON’T YOU DROP IT.
More so than before, the situation at the wall is even more ridiculous and fragile than it’s been in a long time. It’s not surprising that a lot of the Night’s Watch is completely against the idea of creating an alliance with the wildlings. Of course, it’s a guttural reaction: these people have been attacking rangers for years, and Mance Rayder is no friend of the Night’s Watch. I think that’s why I love so much of what Jon does here. I mean, there are entire scenes where he makes sure they treat a giant well and with respect. THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL. Seriously, read all the sections where he talks with Tormund Giantsbane! LOOK HOW WELL HE HANDLES ALL OF THIS.
It’s hard to talk about Jon Snow and this book, though, because it takes every fiber of my being not to SOB IN TERROR because Bowen Marsh is my least favorite human being in any fictional setting ever. I mean…it can’t be true, right? HE CAN’T DIE. We haven’t seen him die and Melisandre is still around so she can keep him alive and PLEASE DO NOT KILL JON SNOW OFF. I know begging for that is a goddamn foolish endeavor because GRRM seems to sense when enough fans like a character and so he vows to upset us because it’s like his lifeforce or something. I mean I feel like that’s canon already and he’s not even a character in these books. Every time I became enraged at a character death, it added another minute to his life, didn’t it? OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE
Why isn’t every chapter in this book about her? I absolutely love the fact that in her chapter, we discover that her beliefs are real, that she isn’t trying to manipulate and deceive everyone. It only makes me want more from her. AHHHH GIVE ME FORTY MILLION CHAPTERS FROM HER. Wait, I shouldn’t say that because he will kill her off. I AM CONFLICTED.
After A Clash of Kings, if you had told me that one day I would feel sympathy for Theon Greyjoy, I would have told you that I don’t want to live on the same planet of you. I would have. I would have said that it was the most improbable idea of all time. I would have assumed you were trolling me. I would have assumed it was a poorly executed joke.
Don’t mistake this for me forgiving him for what he did, but….Reek. I can’t. When I realized it was him in that first POV chapter of his, I just had to shut the book. I don’t really care what a person has done; that sort of treatment is just too much for me. I think it is even more tragic because the man who tortures him isn’t even doing it to avenge the Starks. HE IS JUST FUCKING AWFUL AND DERIVES JOY FROM HUMAN PAIN.
After A Clash of Kings, if you had told me that Theon could do something that would also begin the process of repairing of his reputation, I would laugh until I stopped breathing. Again, I’ll repeat myself: I don’t necessarily forgive him for what he did to Winterfell, but that doesn’t mean that I still can’t have all the feelings for him.
I don’t think GRRM is done with Theon just yet, and I think we’ll find out he survived the leap with Jeyne Poole and made it to Stannis. Please? Please?
Yes, I love her dearly; yes, she does terrible things. THESE TWO THINGS ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. I am sort of flabbergasted to continue to see how much hate she gets from fandom when many men do the exact same things as she does but they’re heroic and noble. god just SHUT UP. I acknowledge that she is supposed to represent how power can corrupt a person, and GRRM does this well; at the same time, he also creates a much more complex portrait of her, and that is why it’s so easy for me to find things to enjoy about her. Say what you will about the mistakes she makes, but she genuinely loves her children; like Catelyn in that respect, it’s at the forefront of a lot of her decisions, though it’s not the sole motivation she has. The world around her punishes her for this, but I never feel like GRRM does herself.
There’s a lot of difficult stuff to read in this series; some of it is gory. (I can’t deal with another kneecap exploding JESUS CHRIST STOP IT). Some of it is thematic. (Catelyn thinking about Ned liking her hair WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME.) A lot of it is just downright upsetting. I don’t think that I could ever sit down and read Cersei’s march of humiliation ever again. I could not do it. It’s one of the most awful things I’ve ever come across in fiction, and what makes it so terrible is that so many people in this world heap scorn and insults on Cersei, including the people close to her, WHEN ALL OF THEM HAVE DONE TERRIBLE, HORRIFIC THINGS. And as uncomfortable as this all was, I do find it fascinating and appropriate that (at least to me) GRRM made this so obvious. Everyone’s suddenly horrified by Cersei’s acts! Good gods, how could one person be so horrible?
SHUT UP YOU ARE ALL WORSE AND YOU PUNISHED HER FOR BEING A WOMAN. Well punished her in that way I should say. She’s still worthy of punishment for what she did, but…YEAH.
OH MY GOD BRIENNE IS ALIVE HOLY SHIT IF YOU GO WITH HER SHE WILL TAKE YOU TO CATELYN. Oh god WHAT DID BRIENNE SAY TO CATELYN TO GET OUT OF THE NOOSE? WHAT IS GOING ON? I NEED THE NEXT BOOK RIGHT FUCKING NOW.
oh my god what the fuck is he going to do with that horn OMG MOQORRO HOLY SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON
Oh, Quentyn. You tried! Misguided as you were, and as presumptuous as you were, you genuinely tried! But HOLY SHIT, YOU FAILED SO BADLY. I mean, there was a part of me that was sort of touched by his decision to try to prove his worth. Of course it was a futile thing to begin with, and the plan to do so was so poorly thought-out that it was doomed to failure. Still, it was sort of…adorable? Like, he genuinely liked Daenarys! Yes, the whole thing stunk of a lot of chivalry and duty and honor and YAWN, but there’s still a part of me that made me think he just wanted her to like him.
TOO BAD HE WAS BURNED TO A CRISP. Oh, Quentyn, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING.
YOU ARE NOT DEAD I AM SO GLAD THAT REPORT IN A FEAST FOR CROWS WAS FAKE BECAUSE YOU ARE MY ONION KNIGHT AND YOU ARE STILL ALIVE AND HOLY SHIT THEY ARE GOING AFTER RICKON AND OSHA. Where the fuck are they???
oh god there are no more books of this for me to read. THIS IS A TRAGEDY. oh god what do i do with my life
A note about scheduling! Surprises start Monday. Many of you will be pleased. There will be no review on Thanksgiving. Because family and food? you bigots ALLOW ME THIS MOMENT. omg just kidding I LOVE YOU ALL. The surprise will take a while to pan out, and then we’ll jump right into the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
On top of that, I’ll have books to release for you, and I’ll be moving on to novelizations of Mark Reads Harry Potter, having Sorcerer’s Stone done and out before Christmas. YOU CAN GIVE IT AS A GIFT OMG. Anyway, watch the site! I will have many things to announce.