Author’s Note: I know, I know, this thing came out almost a month ago, but like many of you, I waited six damn years for it, so rather than plow through it in the interest of getting a review posted, I decided to savor it.
When the last volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, A Feast For Crows, was published in 2005, readers immediately began clamoring for the next book with the normal fury of fantasy fans. But this fury was exacerbated by Martin’s announcement that what they were reading was only half the story. A Feast For Crows grew so prodigiously during the writing of it that Martin split his narrative in twain, and sent the storylines of many fan favorite characters – among them Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow – into the next volume, A Dance with Dragons.
Years went by, and Martin continually promised that the book was on its way, and as those years stretched on some readers became downright nasty about wanting the next book right damn now. Martin was forced to defend himself publicly and still endure the wrath of internet trolls who continually implored him to just sit down and type them damn thing already, as if it were that simple.
Reading A Dance with Dragons, you become grateful that you only had to wait six years. Not only is the book a mammoth of a tome (it’s the second longest in the series and still clocks in at well over 900 pages), but it’s also easily the densest, most lushly plotted book of Martin’s career. At the close of this sweeping, multi continent, cast of thousands narrative filled with death, glory, travels and flights, you’ll be amazed that it didn’t take 20 years to write, and you’ll be convinced that a lesser writer could never have done it.
More than any other book in the series so far, A Dance with Dragons relies more on things happening on the fringes of Westeros, and much of the book takes place outside the story’s home continent altogether. On the Wall, newly-anointed Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch Jon Snow is still dealing with the new political mine field that is King Stannis Baratheon and his Red Priestess, Melisandre. And if that weren’t enough, wildlings are still swarming around the Wall. On the Narrow Sea, Tyrion Lannister is fleeing Westeros in search of a new life after murdering his father Tywin in King’s Landing. And in Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen has set herself up as queen, where she deals with rebellions, dragons that prove difficult to train, and a host of suitors vying for her hand.
Much, much more happens than all that, of course, but that’s as much as I care to divulge. A Dance with Dragons, as with every other A Song of Ice and Fire book, is best when you’re flying as blind as possible, and you can’t see what’s waiting around the next turn.
Maybe it’s the long years of work that did the trick, but Martin is truly at the top of his game here. Dance is by far the most expertly plotted and devilishly twisted of any of the novels thus far, so much so that a few of the new developments are the kind of thing all but the most obsessive readers would never have seen coming. It’s more than just a continuation of what was happening the last book. This time, things happen that shake the whole world to its core, and change the whole spectrum of the series from here on out.
Some of these things will likely make a few readers angry, but Martin is hardly a stranger to that. He’s worked hard to craft a tone of unpredictably, danger and absolute chaos in his book, and with Dance it’s clearer than ever. He takes risks with his plot like he’s never taken before, hurtling his story into unexpected and revelatory directions, and the result is a landmark fantasy novel that cements his reputation as the best novelist of his kind at work today.