Category Archives: A Song of Ice and Fire

Cultural Reading: George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons [Review, w/ Spoilers]

There are a number of ways in which George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons has been defined by its circumstances rather than the text itself.

It became almost a book of prophecy, initially intended to arrive soon after the last book (A Feast for Crows) but then entering into an endless series of delays. It was promised but never delivered, all the more problematic given that it was meant to hold the answers we had been waiting for. It was positioned as the second half of a larger whole, a continuation of a novel now over a decade old, and on some level an apology for a novel that some felt moved too far astray from the story they wanted to see.

The book’s challenge, in true fact, has nothing to do with these circumstances; in fact, the book’s greatest challenge is making it seem as if these circumstances do not even exist. More than ever before, Martin’s task is to get us lost in the world of Westeros and the lands beyond the Narrow Sea, to make us forget that we haven’t visited them for what based on some commentary has been an eternity. While the novel’s intertextual links to the book’s predecessors will remain, a reminder of what expectations have been placed before the text, it would be unfortunate if this book felt like an “answer” in any fashion. It instead needs to feel like its own statement, a statement not in response to criticism but in defiance to expectation.

I’d argue that Martin has managed this task. Although the novel’s odd position results in some issues with balance, strong thematic ties bind these stories together and fall into familiar rhythms that only gather more momentum as the book hurdles along. It is satisfying in every way I wanted it to be, and dissatisfying in every way that Martin intended it to be, ending on a note of utter disarray that nonetheless makes the novel (and its predecessor) feel whole.

I wrote all of this before diving into the discussion of the novel online, discussion that then made me incredibly self-conscious about the above. Now, it isn’t that I started to doubt my opinion: my reaction to the book has not changed upon reading these comments, and in some ways I feel more confident now then I did a week ago (when I liveblogged my reading experience). However, I have become wary of writing a larger review when it appears inevitable that I will be positioned as an apologist for having no large-scale problems with the narrative that Martin has put forward. I have my complaints, some of which I’ve seen bandied about, but the central complaints I’m reading about the novel are things that never really occurred to me.

It reminds me of when both Battlestar Galactica and Lost had their divisive series finales, both of which I enjoyed even while I had my quibbles with each. I’d be discussing the Lost finale with someone who hated it, who felt it shit on everything they loved about the show, and I’d sit there explaining why I felt absolutely none of those emotions and was satisfied. After having numerous such discussions, it became clear that we simply viewed the story differently, were watching for different things and for different reasons.

So when it came time to sit down and truly tackle A Dance with Dragons, it started with a question I didn’t want to be asking: could it be that I have been reading A Song of Ice and Fire wrong all this time?

[NOTE: There will be NO HOLDS BARRED spoilers for the entire novel. Admittedly, I’m vague about some details and probably won’t ruin every twist and turn, but I’m still forbidding anyone intending on reading A Dance with Dragons from reading.]

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Cultural Reading: George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons

The last book I purchased on the day of its release was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, fitting given Friday’s release of the final installment of the film adaptations of that series.

I remember going to my local grocery store early in the morning and picking up a copy, and then returning home to do nothing but read for the remainder of the day. I finished that book in just eight hours of reading, writing a live blog and a full review by the time the day was done.

That did not happen with George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. Yes, I went out to get the book early in the morning, and I returned home and spent most of the day reading. However, this is not a book that can be consumed properly in a single day (at least for me), and it’s also something that I feel less comfortable evaluating as I read along. A few people have tweeted asking me for my opinion, but this particular book sort of confounds our traditional evaluation methods for literature.

This is mainly because the book is functioning as a chronological sequel to one book and a narrative sequel to another: despite coming after A Feast for Crows, it is picking up from A Storm of Swords. While I reread the end of A Storm of Swords to refresh myself on where we last left these narratives, there are nonetheless parts of A Dance with Dragons that pick up on story threads that were vaguely referenced in A Feast for Crows, which draws attention to the parallel narratives unfolding.

I don’t raise these as flaws so much as complications, especially to trying to offer initial impressions. While I am certainly enjoying the book, I sort of hesitate to make any broader statements given the myriad of variables within the current narrative structure. However, since many of you have asked for some thoughts on the novel and because shutting off my critical instincts for an entire 1100-page tome is nigh impossible, I plan on dropping in with some daily thoughts on my progress. Nothing evaluative, and nothing too complicated, but just a dialogue.

One ground rule, though: do not, under any circumstance, discuss or even gesture towards things I have not yet read. I’m going to include the page number that I am on, and I don’t want any details or even vague references to future events. I don’t even want “Oh, just you wait” style comments. I realize this could limit discussion, but I want to try to remain spoiler-free for the book, and I currently know extremely little about where the story is heading (or, rather, I know only what the book has led me to believe).

[Note: Spoilers for A Dance with Dragons, up to page 306, after the jump.]

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