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Mswas’ CBR-III Review #22 – A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

08/14/2011

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.”

How true. Lines like that are the reason I read George R. R. Martin:  a simple truth that moves you. It’s too bad that he buries these nuggets in pages and pages of…other words. Martin is the King of Tangents, and frankly it’s a bit wearing.  I’ve been a huge fan of the books since the 90’s. A very good friend of mine and I would have a two person online book club and read up to a certain point in Clash of Kings or Storm of Swords, and then discuss what we’d read.  I have gone back and read them all when new ones were coming out, to refresh my memory and charge straight into the new ones. I think I’ve read Game of Thrones four times or more.

My interest and my friend’s interest dwindled in the intervening years until Feast for Crows came out. She didn’t read it and I think it was out for a good long time until I picked it up.  And then HBO began planning the Game of Thrones TV series. I considered rereading the series when the show was in this stage, and I was cautiously optimistic about the show’s prospects. It wasn’t until the announcement that A Dance with Dragons had a publication date that I really went back and read it all AGAIN.  I have only written reviews of Game of Thrones so far, but I had to put something down about Dance with Dragons.

And what to say? I’ll say what I’ve been saying for a while now. Martin needs a better editor. Each of his books is more bloated than the next, and DWD did not avoid the bloat either.

In this, the fifth book of the series, Martin is introducing new characters and new major subplots. Important characters from previous novels, such as Catelyn Stark, are nowhere to be found. Martin spends a large portion of the book on Dany’s story in Mereen, across the sea from Westeros.  You know what? I just didn’t care about what was going on there. If he’d left it all out and had the facts briefly recounted by a sailor coming to shore, I’d have been thrilled. That’s where Martin goes wrong.  He doesn’t need to keep the Mereen tale, or some of the other tangents he’s gone off on, in the same book.

Let me give you an example. I’m also a fan of Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series. She’s on the eighth of that series, and each one of them is over 800 pages at least. She also focuses on one of her minor characters, Lord John Grey, in three of his own novels/novellas, each around 300 pages.  The tales of what happens to Lord John don’t really impact the Outlander series, except to enhance our perspective of the character and delve more into his personality. I would argue that Martin should have done the same thing with Mereen, and possibly other tangents.

Other storylines do advance, some of them in quite satisfying ways.  But in the end, it was a long slog through a lot of pages where not much happened. I am still looking forward to more books in this series, and I’m enjoying the discussions with new fans and friends. I only hope that Martin really delivers at the end of this series. I’m still waiting for Winter to come.

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