"For the night is dark and full of turnips."
So unlike the rest of you who had been waiting for this book since the dawn of time, I was fortunate enough to start reading the series this year and could make my merry way straight on from A Feast for Crows. I say this because I think it has a lot of impact on the reading for me compared to those who sat outside bookstores at midnight. Now I find myself in the queue. Le sigh.
Firstly I just want to say how easy it is to take the brilliance of these books for granted, especially given their length and when comparing them to each other. Saying A Dance with Dragons is crap compared to A Storm of Swords is like turning your nose up prime steak because there is pheasant available. It has also had, I'm sure, a lot to do with the wait and the expectations. And on top of that (this occurred to me as I started reading The Black Prism), ASoIaF runs on a very slow burn; it doesn't get your adrenaline running every other page or have you burning for in anticipation for the next chapter. No, it is more clever and subtle than that.
In this book in particular I could really feel the build up of the whole series as different arcs started to merge and come together. That said though, kudos to GRRM for keeping this shit together, because there are currently so many balls up in the air at this point it would make any juggler run in fear. I hope he had some bad ass visual mind maps pinned up on his walls. If real politics are like this, how are we surprised by the global economic crisis? With only two more books to go (egads!) I still feel like it will be a squeeze to wrap everything up ... it's like we've been going up one giant hill since A Game of Thrones and at some point we need to start going down.
I think a lot of negative opinions of this book stem from the lack of plot movement or any kind of resolution it offers, given the huge amounts of time between book publications. There is also the 'Get Daenerys out of Meereen God Dammit' movement, which I'm sure has it's own fanpage somewhere. I can't say that any of this occurred to me during my reading. I've become really content to travel along wherever GRRM takes us and a dull moment was never had. Some other reviewers described 'lengthy travel scenes' ... obviously they have never read Earth's Children by Jean M. Auel, which is essentially one good book and 5 more LONG books of travelogue.
I have to say I loved ADwD just as much as previous books. Daenerys has been a long time favourite character of mine and I welcomed her return with open arms. I think out of the multitude of characters, she is the one that I associate with most strongly and I love her strength, intelligence and ferocity. I didn't realise it to begin with, but during ADwD she really lost something; she had been cowed and was pandering to menial politics rather than, I don't know, slaughtering wantonly. This was rectified for me on a grand scale during the scene with Drogon in The Pit - I had to put the Kindle down to do a fist pump! FIRE AND BLOOD! YEAH!
I recently learned a lot of people actual dislike Dany and her arc of the story (especially after swanning about in Meereen). I'm totally gunning for a Targaryen victory.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the return of characters from A Feast For Crows about halfway through the book, especially Cersei, Arya and the Dornish. I now understand why GRRM split the books as he did, with Southron characters having substantially more material than others to fit into the same time frame. It offered some nice resolutions that I believe would have had people crying for blood if they had been left to the next book (including me). I have to admit that after Daenerys, my favourite character has become Cersei. Though she features only briefly on ADwD, she makes it a doozy and I'm very interested how recent events will have changed her.
I've been amazed at how much ASoIaF has infiltrated and influenced my life on such a profound level. I think about it on a daily basis, as if the characters were people I knew and I was living alongside them. I think that really says a lot about the skill of GRRM and the 'slow burn' I talked about earlier. These books are just a burst of flame, they are here for the long run and they stay with you. Whenever I think of a lion, I now automatically think 'Lannister' for instance. The word 'leal' also (annoyingly) pops into my head all the time. The whole world and incredibly huge cast of characters has been so well built, I feel as if I believe in it as much as our own. Except for the black horses with red manes, that's just stupid. If Harry Potter was the series of my teens, this is definitely the series of my twenties (and potentially thirties, god help us).
GRRM is really the master of foreshadowing and easter-egging. There are so many little (and giant) links forming everywhere, little hints and tidbits, but can any of us honestly say where the series will end up as a whole? Who will win the Iron Throne? What is the fate of Daenerys and the dragons? What role will all the Stark children fulfill with their individual gifts? He gives nothing away!
Now for some nit picking. There are some repetitive elements that have just become annoying - yes, we all know about them, this isn't groundbreaking news. Firstly, have to say it, 'words are wind.' I believe this only actually surfaced in AFfC and is here to stay. The fade to black death scene at the end of a chapter has happened countless times now and let's face it, have they ever actually died? Not fooling anyone anymore GRRM. While I actually like that some characters have their own little mantras (they're quite beautiful/sad/poetic most of the time), it does become too much, especially given it's not just one character ... If I look back, I am lost/You know nothing, Jon Snow/Wherever whores go/Fear cuts deeper than swords ... the list continues. AND THE WORST ONE ... Why does everyone who speaks Westerosi only ever have the slightest accent? EVERY TIME! Sometimes I feel GRRM has found the formula and become comfortable with it, and now he can just spew out the same thing.
And the names out of Slaver's Bay ... I seriously cannot keep track. The Griff and Young Griff introduction, while an interesting twist seemed to come out of nowhere with not enough pizazz in my opinion. And you can't just invent names for each hour of the night (eg hour of the wolf) in book five and then continue to use them frequently as if they have been around forever.
The only thing I might wish for some of the time are more scenes like The Red Wedding or Drogon in the Pit, something with a bit more urgency and fire. It seems each book is only allotted one each.
All in all I have to say this is another great and epic installment in the series that does not disappoint (unless you have been waiting 6 years and are looking for some serious plot advancement and a swift exit from Meereen). I leave you with my favourite line from the book ... I don't know what it is about Cersei's vicious humour (which seems often aimed towards Septas ...) but I made me laugh out loud.
"I do," she said, "I feel reborn, as if a festering boil has been lanced and now at last I can begin to heal. I could almost fly." She imagined how sweet it would be to slam an elbow into Septa Scolera's face and send her careening down the spiral steps. If the gods were good, the wrinkled old cunt might crash into Septa Unella and take her down with her."