Every blogger under the sun (and their mothers) seem to have a copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons and are now posting reviews (embargo lifted early, I guess), except me (and my mom). So, as I’m wont to do when I’m behind the curve (like… always), here’s a round-up of the reviews I’ve stumbled across around the interwebs. I’ll try to keep this updated as I find more reviews.
Some have spoilers, some are spoiler free, so read at your own risk. I’ve tried to keep spoilers out of the excerpts.
A Dance with Dragons (****½) solves a lot of the problems experienced in the previous book in the series and brings renewed energy and focus to getting this story towards the endgame. A series of cliffhangers, some over-used terms (though “Nuncle,” only gets one airing, thankfully) and a feeling that Martin might be revisiting some plot elements a little too freely dent the book’s achievements, but a series of emotionally intense and surprising final chapters restore the faith that Martin has regained control of the story. The novel will be published on 12 July in the UK and USA, but given how many bookstores have broken the embargo, you may get lucky before then.
Jo Walton, author of Among Others, for Tor.com (spoiler-free):
One of Martin’s real strengths, right back to the beginning of his career is getting inside the heads of characters and making them seem real. It’s not so hard to do this with a sympathetic character, it’s very impressive when he does it with an unsympathetic character, when he takes somebody you’ve been hating from outside and makes you sympathise with them from inside. This is one of the real glories of this series, and this is something he’s doing better than ever here. There are nice people and awful people and mixed up people, people trying to do their best and people out for what they can get. There’s death and betrayal and dragons and duty and history and complications and pride. These are things nobody does as well as Martin — things I think of as Shakespearean. Council scenes that set up huge complicated betrayals and battles. Heroism and treachery. And you see so much of it from inside people’s heads that it all feels absolutely real and grounded, even the most melodramatic moments. Speaking of which, you can be pretty sure when you see a fantasy cliche here that it’s going to be turned on its head and choked to death. (But winter is coming.)
Jace Lacob for The Daily Beast:
A Dance With Dragons, the longest of the installments of A Song of Ice and Fire to date, might also be Martin’s finest work yet, a taut and relentless masterpiece that reaffirms the reader’s obsession with the panoply of unforgettable characters that Martin has created, and the brutal, glittering, terrible world in which these novels are set. There are moments of profound loss and of heart-palpitating joy, as dragons dance and the game of thrones plays on, its players and pawns once more beset by woes from home and abroad. Just when it all seems to fall into place, there’s yet another glinting knife, another unexpected disloyalty. Machiavelli, you have met your match in Martin.
Lev Grossman, author of The Magician King, for Time Magazine:
A Dance with Dragons is a big book, topping out at 1,016 pages, but it turns on a dime. Reading a novel is a little like commanding a battle: you’re always reconnoitering, trying to guess where the author will go next, what’s a feint and where the action is really heading. I don’t know when I have ever been as comprehensively and pleasurably out-generalled as when I read Martin. He raises and raises the stakes, long past when any other writer would have walked away from the table, and just when you think he’s done, he goes all in. There is, apparently, no piece he will not sacrifice, no character that you (and one suspects, he) love so much that he will not orchestrate that character’s doom.
Even ostensibly disillusioned fans will be caught up in the interweaving stories, especially when Martin drops little hints around long-debated questions such as Jon’s parentage.
Charlie Jane Anders for io9:
It’s a brilliant, horrifying, depressing book that takes the characters Martin made you fall in love with, and plunges them just a little bit deeper into hell. It feels very much like a companion to A Feast for Crows, the previous book, in both bad ways and good ways. But most of all, it recharges your confidence that Martin is moving towards a conclusion to the lengthy saga.
Chris Y. for the Borders blog:
I loved the pacing of this book. There is a slow buildup to an explosive finish. The last 100 pages are absolutely intense, and there are some game-changing events near the end of the book. HBO is going to have a very tough time putting some of these scenes on screen.
For longtime fans of George R.R. Martin, book five will answer many questions and confirm or disprove many theories. More wild speculation will come out of this book, of course, but it definitely feels like we’re pointed toward the finish line. [...] Overall, I firmly believe that Dragons was well worth the wait. The book is rife with intrigue and maneuvering. And the epilogue? I had to read it twice, because I didn’t believe it the first time. This is, without a doubt, a great read!
Remy Verhoeve for Speakeasy (Wall Street Journal):
Finally it is here, and some of the things we’ve been wondering about for more than a decade are actually revealed (not everything, but at least some things). It has the same structural problems as the previous book; it is sprawling and incoherent at times, but at least the characters are more interesting than in the previous installment. It does feel like I’m reading a bunch of separate stories within the same setting–the chapters are told through the eyes of various characters–but that doesn’t really bother me as I love the setting and like to see it through various points of view.
In the end, I feel that A Dance With Dragons is everything ASOIAF fans could have hoped for. It showcases a George R. R. Martin writing at the top of his game, moves the tale forward like no other installment to date. Those naysayers proclaiming that GRRM had lost his focus and the will to see this project through are proven wrong. Not only is this novel all that the others were, but GRRM raises the stakes to an even higher level then before. The lack of a true ending might irk some readers, sure, but A Dance With Dragons offers so much in terms of plot movement, revelations, and shocking moments that it doesn’t truly matter a whole lot. And it sets the stage for an unbelievable The Winds of Winter.
Jeff Vandermeer for the Los Angeles Times:
Was “A Dance With Dragons” worth the six-year wait? Absolutely. Indeed, Martin’s decision to release a sizable chunk of his story-in-progress as the fourth installment — the underrated “A Feast for Crows” (2005) — now seems wise and actually generous to readers. Originally intended for release as one novel, “Feast” and “Dance” overlap in terms of the time period covered, but they are vastly different. “Feast” chronicled aftermath, the dying fall after the great battle that ended the third book, “A Storm of Swords.” But “A Dance With Dragons,” which overtakes “Feast” chronologically after about 600 of its 1,000 pages, functions more as a novel about exploration and quests.
Elio Garcia for Westeros.org:
Video discussion, no quotable text
Andrew Leonard for Salon.com:
I couldn’t put it down. Late at night, into the wee hours, I would tell myself: just one more chapter, and then, again and again, break my own vow. I was like a hospital patient who keeps clicking on the morphine feed, a binge reader addicted to Martin crack. I was lucky my children were out of town, or I would have been feeding them stale potato chips and allowing them unlimited screen time. I was Martin’s bitch.
So, was A Dance with Dragons worth the wait? I honestly can’t give a definite answer to that question. It’s definitely a wonderful and complex book that did not disappoint me, but on the other hand, it could hardly live up to the expectations I’ve had of it after all these years. The style is often not as flowing as I’d like it to be, there is still some repetition of certain phrases – ‘words are wind’ especially seems to be everyone’s new favourite saying – and, much like A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons seems to suffer from being one of the middle books of the series, as the events that transpire in it are mostly just setting the stage for the grand finale. Still, I can’t say anything but ‘kudos’ to Martin – despite the complexity of the book he holds the reins of the plot firmly in his hands.
Steve Bennett for MySanAntonio.com (spoilers):
For those of us who rarely dip into the well called fantasy but love a good adventure yarn, Martin has forged a tale as sturdy and sharp as a two-fisted broadsword.
No ode to a romantic age, this is sinewy storytelling, with precisely etched characters feeling valid emotions and reacting to them and each other in unpredictable ways. It’s a game played for keeps. Can’t wait for the next one.
Dana Jennings for the New York Times:
Like its predecessors “Dance” has its share of flagons ’n’ dragons, and swords ’n’ sorcerers, but that doesn’t make Mr. Martin the American Tolkien, as some would have it. He’s much better than that.
Mr. Martin writes fantasy for grown-ups, with a blunt and bawdy earthiness that befits the son of a Bayonne, N.J., longshoreman.
So, yes, winter is still coming. Tolkien is dead. And long live George Martin.
Jordan Farley for SFX:
Martin’s complex, demanding style means this is in no way new-reader-friendly. It’s also still one of the most uncompromising and mature fantasies out there, giving us a brutal, frequently shocking and full-blooded portrayal of an unforgiving medieval world. Expertly crafted and thoroughly gripping, the only real downside with this doorstop-sized whopper is the painful wait we’re undoubtedly going to have before the series’ next volume, The Winds Of Winter, finally arrives…
That’s not my intention, as I enjoyed visiting this world again and Martin’s prose is as good as it ever was. I read it rather voraciously for like 5 days, I just don’t find it perfect. It IS however, SCADS better than AFFC if only because it concerns more interesting characters and a lot of the action takes place outside Westeros and that made it have a really nice global flavour. Still a solid read, and it totally delivers in the end.
Despite its shortcomings in storytelling, Dance is beautifully written, as always. Martin litters his pages with suburb foreshadowing and Easter eggs. Nothing I’ve read urges a reader to comb through paragraphs for hints like A Song of Ice and Fire and nothing here changes that legacy. Some of the POVs are stunningly good [...] There are exciting seminal moments for the series (dragons!) and in true Martin style he’s not shy about putting his most cherished characters to the sword.
Instead I’m here saying to anyone who hasn’t started A Song of Ice and Fire, wait until the it’s done. A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, while being eminently better written, are the functional equivalent of the Wheel of Time post Crown of Swords and pre-Sanderson takeover. Martin has thrown so many balls into the air that to keep any from dropping he’s got to painstakingly orchestrate all his chess (cynasse) pieces before he can go on the attack. If I were a new reader, I’d want to make sure the pieces start moving before I invest in 5,000 pages of reading.
Overall I think that if you are an obsessive fan who discusses the finest points of the series in great detail in various forums, the book will be acceptable but not totally awesome for the reasons mentioned above, but if you love a grand scale epic series where the author keeps his “action have consequences and there is no get out the jail card” stance that so shocked people including myself in the earlier volumes, A Dance with Dragons (A++) will be the one novel you want to read this year indeed!
Brilliant! What a way to start! And, what a way to end! And more so… dare I say it? WORTH THE WAIT! 1000 pages, or near enough that makes no matter. 75 chapters, 16 POVs, Much ado about… Tyrion, Jon Snow and Daenerys.
Larry Nolen for The OF Blog:
It might not be as “sexy” as wars, battles, betrayals, and so forth, but it does provide a depth to these events that make them more palatable and meaningful. It is not a perfect novel by any stretch, but A Dance With Dragons is a solid addition to a long-running series that I suspect will be more important in the scheme of matters once the series is completed. When that might be is anyone’s guess, but anticipation will continue to bedevil both writer and readers alike.
The disappointment reflected in this review is simply because you expect the absolute best from the best. A Song of Ice and Fire continues to be one of the most exciting and challenging reads fantasy has to offer. Martin’s grasp of complex characters, his detailed and (generally) efficient world building and scenes of beautiful prose are all on display in A Dance with Dragons. The prologue is a particularly poetic delight in which Martin clearly revelled. While Daeny [sic] struggles with stagnation that frustrates the reader, it is believable for a leader clearly caught between a rock and hard place. Martin’s full prowess is also on display in Jon’s immensely satisfying storyline. He has grown into leadership, able to face tremendous challenges but experiencing both success and failure. Like a young man he is bold, but often struggles to read people. His arc is near perfection.
So, early consensus seems very positive, with some of the reviewers labelling it as one of the best volumes in the series (but others putting it behind A Game of Thrones and A Storm of Swords.) At the very least, however, it sounds as though readers won’t be able to complain about a lack of action/plot advancement, as is often the case with A Feast for Crows.
If you stumble across any other reviews, let me know and I’ll link to them.