Friday, January 24, 2014

A Dance with Dragons

Dear George R.R. Martin. Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You may have killed my favorite character. Prepare to die roll in dough as we continue buying your brick-sized creations.

(The above is what you'd expect from a book titled "A Dance with Dragons." Disclaimer: For the vast majority of this book's pages, none of it happens.)
Yes, I have a few problems with this latest installment in GRRM's neverending magnum opus. I have high standards for GRRM after ASOIAF 1-3. Hey, I read GRRM before I ever read Tolkien. He showed me that it was okay to hold fantasy to high standards, for crying out loud! And now I am disappointed. *sadface* So allow me to use this review space for the gripe-fest.
A thousand-plus pages doorstopper (this book can easily serve as a self-defense weapon in a dark alley) - and yet the story advances by a few millimeters at best. Nothing gets resolved. The characters spend pages and pages going about mundane tasks, participating in endless drawn-out conversations, pissing, eating, drinking, pissing, whoring, eating some more, pissing again. Is it supposed to make the story GRRM's trademark "gritty and realistic"?
Seriously, I have not encountered this much information about bodily functions and food outside of nephrology textbooks and Food Network.
This overload of description of landscapes, clothing, banquets, people, and food makes me snooze. FILLER! And it makes me wonder whether any editors AT ALL were involved in the creative process.


GRRM's trademark move is ending everything with an "OMG CLIFFHANGER!!!!!". Maybe it stems from his TV-writing days: the notion that the readers will tune back in, despite nothing really happening in the entire episode, only if the hero is left hanging off the cliff at the end?

That's what this book felt like to me: pages and pages of very little happening, of a narrative stagnation, of endless repetitive conversations. And then, with a few chapters left to go - BAM! POW! BOOM! ((view spoiler) Which guarantees that we will read the next book. Cheap and lazy trick, Mr. Martin.

In the meantime, I see another Tyrion or Dany or Quentyn or Davos chapter and get a nagging feeling - wait, haven't I read this already?
WORDS ARE WIND - GRRM seems to hammer this message in on what feels like every other page. Yet if this book is any indication, given the lack of overall storyline development, HE HAS PASSED MORE THAN ENOUGH OF IT.

Neverending repetition in this book is grating. Just to name a few: "Words are wind", "leal", "neeps", "where do whores go?", "kissed by fire", "Reek rhymes with...", "jape", "nipples on a breastplate", "kill the boy", "it is known", "must needs"... Enough already! I miss the times when I was just eyerolling at "You know nothing, Jon Snow". Which makes its appearance here as well, by the way.
My problem with this book is that I expected a story. You know, where things are happening and storylines advance. VERY LITTLE OF THAT HAPPENS. Very few of the storylines led anywhere. Those that advanced somewhat were Jon's, Dany's, and Bran's (and the first two should have been trimmed a bit), and Theon/Reek's story was fascinating in its horror (Ramsay Snow Bolton joins the list of most hated characters EVER). And yet we are still barely a step away from the events that transpired back in Storm of Swords.

And as for other storylines... Tyrion gives us a travelogue, and nothing that we could not have covered in a single chapter. Arya is doing pretty much the same stuff as before. Jaime's chapter traded one cliffhanger for another, and frankly, just like Cersei's chapters, was not necessary. Davos's and Quentyn's arcs could have been summed up with a sentence each in somebody else's POV. The ironborn, Dorne, Barristan - why were they needed in this book, again?

A pictographic summary of ADWD.
Which leads me neatly to what I think is the root of all evil. GRRM's trademark move number two is supposed to be killing off characters. I call BS on that. Yes, he killed a few protagonists. BUT IN THEIR STEAD HE UNFAILINGLY SPROUTS WHAT FEELS LIKE DOZENS MORE.

It seems that everyone and their grandmother is getting a POV chapter these days, which bogs down the story quite a bit. I really only care about the characters that we met in the first couple of books. I do understand the need to occasionally give us a perspective through a fresh set of eyes. That's cool. But here is a problem:
(a) Do I really need an insight into the head of EVERYONE? Leave me with some mystery, please.

(b) Too many cooks spoil the soup. I lose track of the overall story which comes to a standstill dealing with its ever-expanding cast.

(c) The entire story arc of Quentyn Martell. Why? The details of his voyage were unnecessary to the story. His ultimate act was interesting, yes - so why not dedicate just ONE chapter to him (view spoiler)
The story by now seems to have sprawled too wide and out of Mr. Martin's control. How can he satisfactorily wrap up this monster of a story with only two more planned volumes unless he pulls a Steven King in The Stand and suddenly kills off most of his POV characters? Which raises a question - why the need to introduce them in the first place?

Martin is still a better writer than many out there - despite the gripe-fest above. But this was a mostly unsatisfying read which could have benefited from some serious editing and trimming of the verbal diarrhea. I will still read the next installment (when it's out, in a decade or so) - mainly because I need some resolution to this story despite its declining quality. I hope the next book will resemble the first three volumes. 3 stars.

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