Like direwolves, plot advancement has not been seen in 200 years. The series started with three thunderous installments, and now we are dog paddling in what is essentially Lonely Planet: Riverlands (published as A Feast for Crows) and Lonely Planet: Essos (published as A Dance with Dragons). Also, I can’t help but notice that the prose quality is slagging out. No spoilers here because, um, there’s not a lot to spoil.
A howl of fury is building amongst the readership because Dance ends with a complete insult of a cliffhanger, if you can even call it that. GRRM seems to have forgotten how stories work; if he wrote A Game of Thrones today, he’d probably chop it off right when Dany walks into the pyre instead of closing grandly on the morning after.
If I were GRRM’s agent, I’d advise him to switch to serial installments before he alienates his entire fan base forever. Cliffhangers are for reveals that will be revealed soon. Scheherazade would be Unremembered Dead Wife #349 if she had said, “And then…oops it’s midnight! Let’s have a little sex and I’ll tell you the rest of the story in 11 years.” As a writer who is clearly second-guessing himself and flagrantly disrespecting deadlines, a little time pressure would do GRRM a world of good. Thanks to the internets and Kindles, we even have incredible infrastructure for single-author serialization.
Alternatively, he could just open the field and let fanfic finish it. I’m sure someone(s) could do a better job, given how the last two installments have plopped. It’s weird how hypocritical GRRM is about fanfic, and coincidentally I feel a growing dread that the Ice and Fire moral universe is sliding out of whack. Jon will have to kill Arya or do something equally heinous.
Looked at another way, GRRM is currently writing his own fanfic. Dude, leave the fic to the fans!
Anyway, my thoughts on the story itself:
Dance is more enjoyable than A Feast for Crows since it’s about Jon/Dany/Tyrion, but the minor POVs are the best parts because they exist to accomplish something specific. Stuff actually happens in the minor POVs. In the main triptych, we hear a lot about history and nipples (color and size, quite reliably). Jon manages to have a small arc, but Tyrion has a tangential yet neverending travelogue, and Dany’s story is just a mess of fail. What happened to the badass who had the nerve to steal 8000 elite slaves and stake 163 noblemen?
Tyrion is showing serious signs of turning into Miles Vorkosigan. In addition to being a dwarf from an influential family who once acquired some mountain-clan mercenaries through virtuoso fast-talking, Tyrion is perpetually (1) trying to get out of his father’s shadow, (2) falling in love with women, (3) getting beaten up due to his insolent one-liners, (4) saving his sullen travel companions just because he’s kind-hearted, (5) being really quite good with logistics and battle strategy, and (6) being really quite shrewd about politics. In Dance we find out that Tyrion (7) really slides in and out of trouble (though possibly as flotsam rather than with forward momentum) and (8) once fixed all the drains in Casterley Rock. Next, I’m sure Tyrion will develop a fondness for gray suits. Anyway, these observations are neither here nor there, which is fitting because Tyrion’s story is also neither here nor there; it’s as if a random fistful of novella got spliced into the main story just because GRRM had some word count lying around.
Dany is a mess of fail that I can’t even talk about. Jon has the clarity of purpose that Dany used to have, and I really enjoyed watching him negotiate like a champ. Sexy, sexy negotiations. He would have been such a good Lord of Winterfell. Jon for CEO. Let’s draft a new mission statement. But where’s my mission statement committee? This arc could have been great if it had actually finished.
Surprisingly, Theon is the one who gets an actual story arc. If you thought to yourself that Theon deserved a fate worse than death, well…he got it. After a couple chapters, I even came around to wishing Theon could be redeemed. His chapters are tightly written and include a lot of fun, awesome things; it’s like reading GRRM from a decade ago.
Davos is also suddenly quite interesting. I no longer wish him dead, though I still find him uniquely irksome because he’s too smart to be so dumb. Lord Manderley is my new pick for Hand. I was so sleepy from the Lonely Planet chapters that I missed the delicious Titus Andronicus moment until someone pointed it out.
NOW, A SMALL SPOILERY THOUGHT. Dance stands alone in having a negative body count: Kevan and Crispycakes die, but Aegon, Jon Connington, Mance, Davos, FrankenGregor, and Bloodraven come back from the grave. That’s -4.
It’s -3 if you count the Caesaring, which I don’t. Kill the boy and let the man be born, said Master Aemon. I probably won’t like where this is going. I preferred the Game of Thrones world where magic was severely limited. Everything started to go to shit when unBeric and unCat appeared.