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A Dance with Dismay

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A remarkably spoiler-free review.

I just pushed through the last few chapters of George R. R. Martin’s latest installment in the Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, A Dance with Dragons. On the one hand, there were parts of the story that were just so epic, and my heart was reeling the whole time. On the other, I’m anticipating waiting another four to five years for the next one and damn is there a cliffhanger.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Martin’s writing is a lesson in scene selection and structure and pacing, for both good and ill. He has so many characters to keep track of, and such a large story to tell, that he shows those of us aspiring to be authors that each chapter really does need to propel the story in a direction, and really does need to leave us feeling up or down (reminding me of the point made in Robin D. Laws’ Hamlet’s Hit Points). Unfortunately, the up part hit at around the 80-90% mark, and the last ten percent of the novel was potshot after potshot aimed directly at our most beloved characters. Granted, we know he’s able–and willing–to kill off main characters, seemingly at random, but why introduce a so late in the game if he isn’t to have a bearing on the plot anyhow? At least, only in a very subtle way, an emotional way.

At the same time, I can see why Martin wanted to pass over Feast for Crows and the first half of A Dance with Dragons–it is all Procedural, if we’re going by Laws’ beat types, with the occasional Reveal and heart-wrenching defeat (okay, that’s not one of the “official” beats, but Martin uses them so frequently they might as well be). I’m sick of watching Tyrion be used to either entertain the author with irony or merely as a plot device to show what’s going on between the far ends of the world. The number of coincidences going on is borderline unbelievable, but realistically he cannot insert any more characters without our emotional heartstrings becoming too thinly spread, and tugged in every which way.

Regardless, the last line of every chapter was tantalizing–or terrifying–enough to keep me going, and by the last quarter of the book, going at full-speed. That, my friends, is how you keep your reader dancing to your cruel mummer’s show.

Like most series, I am definitely aching to see the ending. Winds of Winter will not even be the last book, and threatens to be the darkest one yet, and I wonder whether A Dream of Spring will really be as hopeful as a dream, or a nightmarish conclusion to a gritty and depressing version of The Lord of the Rings.

Not perfect, but still recommended!

The song is by no means a fairlytale, and so I cannot hold my breath for a happy ending.

So does the book garner a coveted triple crit rating, or merely a double? I love the series so much, taken as a whole, but the most recent books cannot keep up with the first three, unfortunately. Two out of three crits, for a great story, but one of which even the author himself seems to grow weary.

And now, I eagerly await the second season of HBO’s A Game of Thrones.

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