As crows feast over the carrion of southern Westeros, in the steadily wintery North and the sun-soaked far east of Slaver’s Bay there is A Dance with Dragons both literally and figuratively. After waiting five years in between the fourth and fifth installments of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin brought back the stories of Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen after a ten year wait after finishing A Storm of Swords. As with A Feast for Crows, this book shows how new leaders handle responsibility and the results of their actions.
While the previous book had a feeling of intimate focus, A Dance with Dragons returned to the grand scale that had given Martin’s series one of its biggest appeals. The majority of the book takes place in North or Meereen, whether in the city or traveling towards it. At the Wall, Jon has to juggle the needs of the Stannis Baratheon, the Night’s Watch itself, the Wildlings, and more importantly the Others who look to take advantage of men divided against one another. Just a little south, the Boltons and Freys look to secure the North as Theon Greyjoy reeks out an existence within the confines of Winterfell all the while as his sister Asha marches with Stannis as the coming of winter hits hard without knowing that Davos Seaworth has discovered that ‘the north remembers’. Tyrion’s escape from King’s Landing and his eventual journey to the far east of Slaver’s Bay is full of soul searching, the need to survive, and finally the thrill of political intrigue especially as he sends another Dragon west towards Westeros. Wherein Meereen, Dany is finding ruling a conquered city challenging especially after confining her dragons and must compromise to bring peace from her foes within the city walls all the while enemies approach without as well as several friends.
The much lamented “Meereenese Knot” that Martin talked during the writing of A Dance with Dragons, is the area of the book in which many are dissatisfied, including myself to an extent. In all honesty, the majority of Dany’s chapters were my least favorite of the entire book which made me not look forward to anything related to Meereen until after she had ridden out of the city in style. Once Dany had left, in her place came Barristan Selmy who seemed to get things moving with a little help from Quentyn Martell. Although the later character’s story was a fiery catastrophe, Barristan made me look forward to seeing Meereen again as things were actually happening. Given the issues and personal dilemmas that Dany was facing, it felt that it was parallel with Jon however Martin seemed to write Jon’s chapters better than Dany’s which made Meereen a slog until she left and when she did her chapters improved dramatically.
The first 60% of A Dance with Dragons takes place at the same time as A Feast for Crows and it isn’t until the final two-fifths of the book that the entire epic feels whole again as previous POV characters Cersei, Jaime, and Victarion make important appearances. However there is one important new character making a first appearance in this book that could considerably change the political landscape of Westeros for better or ill as The Winds of Winter hit the continent.
After a wait of five and ten years respectively for this installment and for a lot of these characters, A Dance with Dragons is a very good book. Although one major point of view character’s chapters are not up to par with those from previous books, the great writing of other major and secondary characters more than makes up for it resulting in a harrowing and thrilling latter part of the second act of A Song of Ice and Fire.