Page count: 1040 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: July 12th, 2011
Date finished: July 20th, 2011
This review may contain some spoilers. It's the fifth book in a series, it makes absolutely no sense if you've not read the others in the series. If you've lived in a cave during the last few months, and not realized that the series is also being adapted into a very successfull HBO series, the first book is "A Game of Thrones".
Like many others, I waited six years for A Dance with Dragons. His previous book, A Feast for Crows was really only half a book, split off and published five years after the third book in the series. It covered about half the cast of characters in Martin's epic saga, but many of the most popular ones would not appear again until this one. As well as showing what the other half of characters in Westeros and the surrounding countries were up to, it ties all the threads together, so that all the characters in both books 4 and 5 will start from the same point in time when book 6 finally arrives.
So, was it worth waiting 11 years to find out what's happening with Bran, Danaerys, Tyrion and Jon Snow, as well as a multitude of other characters, some familiar, some new? I'm far too much of a fan girl to say no, although I'm not going to pretend Martin's writing is flawless. The book is monstrously big, and would absolutely have benefitted from tighter editing, however, that would probably have delayed its publication by at least another six months, maybe a year. So I can see why they decided to just get the thing out there, before the fans grew even more rabid. In many ways, Martin's prose has improved since he first started writing the books. This book has less of the never very well written sex scenes of the previous books, but there is still horrific violence.
As well as revealing what happened to Tyrion once he fled Westeros, now a wanted man, the book shows us Danaerys trying valiantly to do the right thing for all her followers, while unsure of who to trust. Jon Snow has many unpopular decisions to make, trying to appease one of the many contenders to the Iron Throne, while trying to figure out how to staff the Wall and find enough food, supplies and weapons to last them through the long winter, that's just around the corner. Bran travels with his companions in the hostile wilderness beyond the Wall, trying to find a mystical creature who can help him interpret his strange visions and hoping for the return of his legs. There are several groups of people travelling towards Mereen, wanting to woo the young Targaryen queen and gaining her dragons. Quite a few new points of view are introduced, some minor characters possibly believed dead are reintroduced, and it's clear that Martin has grand plans for his series.
The muliple points of view has always been a strength in Martin's series, allowing the reader to see a situation from different angles, and allowing Martin to show what is happening in various locations at the same time. Unfortunately, in this book, he occasionally shows the same event from up to three points of view, which gets a bit tiresome, and due to the lack of editing, more than one character recollects events not just in previous books, but earlier in this same book. When the flashbacks are coming from withing the episode, so to speak, it's time to tighten up the writing, George. He did not need to go so much into detail as he frequently did, and I hope that he manages to make the next book more focused and writes it faster, as some of the repetition took away from my enjoyment.
If you're a fan of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, you will enjoy this book as well, and as I said, many of the flaws are understandable, considering how fast they rushed the publication. I just hope that Martin has plotted the remains of the series carefully now, and that the remaining books in the series arrive before I have kids not just in nursery, but primary school.