Meanwhile… “A Dance with Dragons” is the fifth novel of George R. R. Martin’s series “A Song of Ice and Fire”, but sequentially happens alongside its predecessor, “A Feast for Crows”. (I was reading on ‘Wikipedia’ that that book was getting to be so long that a decision was taken to split the narrative into two books: not chronologically, but by character and location, resulting in two novels taking place simultaneously).
In this book, we revisit some places and meet some people from a long time back, example; we follow a certain character to Pentos and Magister Illyrio (where Daenerys Targaryen had spent time before her marriage to Khal Drogo). It is moments like this, that made me realize what an epic journey I am on, and just how far I have come since events first began! And for that reason, one very interesting feature of this book was that I got to read about events, which were on the other side of (Roose Bolton waiting to get married to Arya Stark), or at the beginning of (Jon Snow asking Samwell Tarly and Gilly to leave with one baby) events I read in the previous book!
The inclusion of a lot of fantastic elements – not only dragons and sorcerers, but also shape shifters and monsters, such as Sixskins and Coldhands – made for a fascinating read! That entire section about Bran Stark’s journey to the secret cave where the last surviving Children of the Forest dwell, his meeting with the Three-eyed Crow, and his subsequent powers, was absolutely brilliant!
The other major reason I really liked this book – more than its predecessor in fact – was that a lot of the characters that I really like and care about, who were missing in the previous book, are back now, and we get to know so much more about Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow. On that note, Daenerys Targaryen was the most awe-inspiring character of this book. I mentioned this in one of my previous reviews on this series, but she is someone who truly deserves to sit on the Iron Throne. From leading men to difficult victories, to pioneering care for her people, to making the most supreme sacrifices for her kingdom, she alone shows the courage and valour and adaptability I would presume would be required of one who is destined to sit on a throne.
Where the character development went a step further was in showing us characters from their early childhood years, as a result of which, we get to see how kings and kingmakers are born. It is one thing to read stories of legendary kings that are or have been, but it is quite another to see a young boy or girl grow to show signs of being a contender to the throne. Jon Snow may have been a great person to know and a good friend to have, but how is he in a position of high command? Daenerys Targaryen may have earned her title Mother of Dragons, but how will the mother behave when her dragons are considered dangerous and chained up at her subjects’ demands? That was very interesting.
There was an overriding sense, more than ever before that events are closing in and people are moving ahead with a very definite purpose towards sitting on the Iron Throne… events such as the return of ‘The Lost Lord’, or Roose Bolton’s taking over of Moat Cailin, etc. marked that definite movement. Equally, there was a sense of people having to undergo vast journeys – in time, over distance, and of character. Tyrion Lannister’s sense of loss as he relives his relation with his father, with Tysha, with Jaime Lannister, was one of the higher emotional touch points. A prince becomes an entertainer and fights perched on ‘Pretty’ the pig against Penny atop ‘Crunch’ the dog… A queen is declared a sinner, and makes a long and humiliating ‘walk of shame’… From Tyrion to Hugor Hill, from Jeyne Poole to Arya Stark, from Arya across so many avatars to now the Ugly Little Girl, and from Theon to Reek (without question, one of the most horrific torture stories of the series); amid much waiting and suffering there is a life changing journey that all must undertake.
If there was one negative point about this novel, it was the pace of the storytelling, which tended to fall back and linger at times. Example, Davos’ journey to Stannis Baratheon’s court or Tyrion’s journey on the ‘Shy Maid’ – although followed by stormy encounters – were in themselves somewhat slow.
Davos Seaworth and Lord Wyman Manderly. Tyrion Lannister and the Widow of the Waterfront. Daenerys Targaryen and Hizdahr zo Loraq. As Tyrion says at one point, “a plot within a plot”… of which, there was no shortage! And there is the twist in the end as we meet a kingmaker, and a possible future king – one who, as the kingmaker says, has not been brought up to believe that kingship is his right, but rather has been trained from birth in everything from arms to languages, religion, history and law, to poetry, fishing, cooking and even medicine. And, not uncommonly, the book leaves this and other plot points (notably what happened to Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen!) unresolved.
Slightly off-topic, I’d like to end with a quote from Jojen, who tells Bran, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”