While looking at my published posts, I just realized that I haven’t made an entry for GRRM’s A Dance with Dragons, which I finished reading a while ago.
In this case, “a while ago” means about 112 pages into Abaddon’s Gate, the third entry of The Expanse by James S.A. Corey, which I’m reading—and enjoying, immensely—now.
I’m not sure how I forgot to post this review. In fact, I am currently doubting my soundness of mind because of this lapse, and I encourage you to do the same. I’ve been a fan of this series since the beginning, long before HBO’s terrific adaptation, which they called The Game of Thrones, after the first novel in The Song of Ice and Fire, which any self-respecting nerd knows was A Game of Thrones.
The conclusion of the cable television series is behind us now, for better or worse. The source material continues. A Dance with Dragons was published way back in 2011, and I’ve owned it since then, even though I didn’t begin to read it until this year. It was the fifth novel in a projected seven-book cycle. As of today, September 2019, the sixth novel has not been published. That would be The Winds of Winter, which I will purchase. Of that, there is little doubt. During the interim, however, the entire HBO series has transpired. Because of this fact, the actors of the series will forever be the models I base the characters of this story upon. Peter Dinklage is my Tyrion, even if I know he is far too handsome and has too much of his nose remaining.
Winds will publish in 2020, if George R.R. Martin can be trusted (he obviously cannot, but that’s another post entirely). The real concern—and preemptive apologies to Martin and his family—is that the 70-year-old Martin will die before finishing his magnum opus.
Not to sound narcissistic, but this has happened to me before, with the author James Oliver Rigney Jr.—better known by his pen name Robert Jordon—who passed away in 2007 before finishing writing his The Wheel of Time series. I tried reading the final volumes, completed by Brandon Sanderson, and they just weren’t the same. I don’t want The Song of Ice and Fire to end the same way.
Without a doubt, Martin has already written a shit-ton of pages, so maybe this won’t happen. As it stands, A Dance with Dragons is primarily about Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, and—to a much lesser degree—Arya Stark and Theon Greyjoy (now known as Reek). Other characters from the saga are represented, but since the bulk of this novel happens simultaneously as the events of A Feast for Crows, this novel mostly concerns events in the North and across the Narrow Sea. Events to the South in Westeros are discussed, but aren’t focused upon.
This was the only novel published after the start of the HBO series, and it deviates ever-so-slightly from the television program. It has more depth, certainly, and more side plots not fully explored in the series. Having watched all of the series at this point, that’s actually a terrific selling point for this novel. If you haven’t read it already, you should buy it now. You get to spend more time, doing different things, with characters you already know and love, or love to hate.
In spite of the fact that this story has already played on on the small screen, I’m not going to spoil the book for you. I expect the final two books of the series to play out differently than the HBO series as well. In fact, I’m counting on it.
If you’re a fan of the series, then you will enjoy reading A Dance with Dragons. Martin’s ability to create a fictional fantasy milieu are without equal. This feels like a true story realistically unfolding as I read it, which is no small praise. However, if you’re looking for a self-contained story, with a fully realized beginning, middle and end, you won’t find it here. This is a chapter in a longer story, and it feels very much like that. If I had longer to wait for the next entry, I would feel more bitter about this fact.
Is this great fantasy literature? Yes, it is.
Should you read it? Yes, you should.
Is this, on its own merits, a great standalone novel?
Ah, there’s the rub. No, it’s not. Mediocre, at best. As a component in a greater work, it’s probably adequate. The conclusion of this series will be the real proof of the pudding.
Firewater’s Fifth-Entry-in-a-23-Year-Old-Series Report Card: C+
I feel like a heretic scoring the book this low, but I was left feeling unfulfilled and wanting. I’m counting upon GRRM to make it all right in the end.