A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
This series just blows my mind constantly. Martin is always surprising readers. I feel like every time I finish a chapter I have to put the book down and think for a bit, imagining where the plot might go after these new revelations–and never, not once, have I been correct. And I’m a person who can predict the hell out of a lot of books. I heard once that it takes like 40 miles of ocean for an aircraft carrier to change its course. This length, depth, and breadth of this series make it like an aircraft carrier in size, but it has the turning radius of a sportscar. The entire epic narrative can change with just a few lines, with a single word. And not only are the plot turns here unexpected, they’re shocking in the creativity of their violence. Martin will murder beloved characters in the most senseless, brutal manner possible. He’ll dispatch minor point of view characters just to get them out of the way. He’ll kill a character, and then 80 pages later, bring her back. He’ll come back to a character after 200 pages on the other side of the world, and he’s got a new name. He’ll psych you out by introducing a character who was supposed to be dead throughout the entire series, but isn’t. He’ll connect two plot lines by bringing random characters together in the most unbelievable coincidences, and keep the ones who are searching earnestly for each other apart for thousands of pages.
In this book Daenerys deals with war and rebellion and multiple suitors, Jon Snow handles an immigration/refugee crisis at the Wall, Tyrion travels through the Free Cities, outsmarting slavers and sellswords, while cracking wise and bitter, and snow falls and tension builds in the North between Bolton, Manderly, Stannis, the Free Folk, and the Watch. There are only the shortest, most teasing mentions of Jaime, Brienne, Bran, and Arya, which frustrated me. I think Jon’s story arc was one of my favorites, as he grew into his power and managed the politics of his new position as Lord Commander.
I’m not the biggest fan of the structure of the most recent two books. Martin said that he meant for these most recent two books to be one book, but the narrative got too long and unwieldy, so he split the various plot lines in half, and put some in the last book and the rest in this one. I don’t like losing track of characters for that long, although there are some plotlines I like more than others, of course. It does make some sense because the stories are spread out so far geographically, but still. The main reason the story got so long seemed to be the addition of new characters. Anyway, I’m amazed at Martin’s ability to juggle so many characters, each with his or her own story arc that rises and falls not just within each novel but across all of them.
The questions I’m left with are maddening: Where is Sansa? What is Varys’s plan? What depraved atrocity will the bastard of Bolton commit next? How will Tyrion make Daenerys his ally? And the conflicts that this novel sets up for the next installment are incredible. There will be two queens on trial for their lives, Targaryns on the battlefield, and, finally, DRAGONS! The wait for the next book will be almost as bad as Ramsay Bolton’s dungeon. Ok, not that bad. I’m not begging Martin to cut off my fingers. I’m just begging him to write faster!