Many books in my book queue are waiting to be read, and a common theme among them is they’re all part of a series, trilogy or saga. Each Sunday, I’ll share a book from a series. You can read along with me, or add the books to your own reading list. This week, I read “A Dance with Dragons,” the fifth and final book so far in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin.
“A Dance with Dragons” picks up with the characters “A Feast for Crows” left out. I got to read more about Tyrion and Daenerys, two of the most entertaining characters in George R. R. Martin’s latest tome.
Tyrion leaves King’s Landing to find his long-lost wife Tysha and to solicit the help of Daenerys in retaking the seven kingdoms of Westeros. He’s heard rumors that she hatched dragons and has been freeing slaves all across Slaver’s Bay. He ends up meeting another dwarf named Penny, who is also an entertainer who was at King Joffrey’s wedding the night he was killed. Tyrion and Penny travel to Meereen with a dog and a pig and perform for the slavers there. There’s no sign of Tyrion’s wife.
Daenerys, in the meantime, wants peace in Meereen. She marries Hizdahr zo Loraq, a merchant in Meereen who wants to be king. He promises her peace if she will open the arena for fighting again. On their wedding day, Daenerys and Hizdahr go to the arena where someone passes around a bowl of poisoned roasted locusts. One of Dany’s knights is poisoned, but he doesn’t die. Dany’s long-lost dragon, Drogon, lands in the arena and starts blasting everyone with fire. Dany marches up to the dragon, cracks a whip and rides off on the back of her dragon. The dragon blasts her with fire and burns off all her hair, but her skin is not burnt otherwise. It’s one of the most epic moments in the series.
Some more chapters are devoted to happenings in the north. At The Wall, Jon Snow is commanding the Night’s Watch and forming pacts with the Wildlings from Beyond The Wall. King Stannis meets up with Jon at The Wall, too, in the hopes that Jon will devote the Night’s Watch to Stannis’ cause.
Stannis, as Robert Baratheon’s brother, believes he’s the rightful heir to the Iron Throne and ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. He’s been going on about it for two books now. Stannis has been tromping around with his creepy sorceress, Melisandre, who burns people alive in order to see the future. Eventually they decide they’re going to take back Winterfell and Moat Cailin from Ramsey Bolton, a secondary character who we didn’t pay much attention to in the earlier books.
Ramsey Bolton captures Theon Greyjoy when he raids Winterfell. Theon becomes Ramsey’s pet and renamed Reek. Ramsey Bolton is by far the most brutal and evil character. I would not recommend eating while reading any of the chapters containing Ramsey because he’s a pretty disgusting guy. Fortunately, enough people hate him and I’m guessing he’ll meet a horrible end in the future. The story arc ends with Stannis marching to take Winterfell and Ramsey sending a long, insulting letter to Jon Snow at The Wall.
Halfway through the book, we meet up with Jaime, Brienne and Cersei. Cersei is completely humiliated, but she’s probably plotting something. I’m not entirely convinced she has changed her ways.
There’s more to the plot. More characters, more events, more fighting, more scheming. But if I tried to describe it all, I’d not only spoil the whole story for you, but it would be an even-longer book review than it really needs to be.
GRRM continues his world-building in the fifth book. We learn about places, the legends behind the places and about people who ruled Westeros and the Free Cities before the current set of characters. It makes for a lush and compelling story.
The audience doesn’t need to know certain extra details. As in “A Clash of Kings,” GRRM decides to regale us with the names of ships. The ships then get renamed and we know about that, too. We know everything everyone has to eat, which is also tiresome, except when someone gets poisoned, which is averaging on less than one time per book. GRRM also has a preoccupation with the female chest area in this particular book. I could have read about subtle political maneuverings without reading an intimate description of some woman’s chest every five pages.
Readers also might be confused by the constant character name changes. Theon, for example, turns in to Reek, then he’s in a chapter called “The Prince of Winterfell,” and then “The Turncloak,” then back into Theon. It’s all the same person, but it takes a moment to figure out what character GRRM is following in the chapter. It reminds me of the epitaphs used on characters in Greek epics or the confusing nicknames used in Russian literature.
I’m also noticing multiple unique religious traditions in the series. Now that the characters are traveling around Westeros and the surrounding areas, different religions clash. The most notable is Melisandre’s religion clashing with nearly everyone else. Melisandra follows one god, R’hullor, who is the god of fire and light. She and her followers are quite adamant about their monotheism in a realm where almost everyone else follows multiple gods. The Seven is the predominant religion in Westeros, where the followers pray to various deities representing archetypes within humanity: the maiden, the mother, the crone, the stranger, the soldier, the smith and the father. In the north, Jon Snow follows the Old Gods, and on the Iron Islands, the people there follow the Drowned God where the priests have an odd tradition of drowning people and bringing them back to life as a sort of rite of passage.
It’s interesting to see the characters argue over their religion and politics in the same way people argue over the exact same things in real life. While GRRM’s world has sort of a medieval feel, the characters have very modern human sensibilities and personalities. The characters are greedy, wild and unpredictable. They buckle under pressure. They lash out and make human decisions. Even though it’s a fictional world, it is also life-like.
I would highly recommend this series to anyone who loves epic adventure. Seriously, go out and buy all of the books right now. Borrow them from someone if you don’t feel like spending the money. I’m guessing they’ll be on those “100 books to read before you die” lists in no time.
The sixth book in “A Song of Ice and Fire” series is “The Winds of Winter,” which has no release date yet. I’m hoping GRRM will come up with something awesome within the next five years or so. He took a major hiatus between “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons.” That’s okay. I’m a patient reader.
Next week I’ll be starting the “50 Shades” trilogy. I’ve heard from some that it’s a gripping, racy novel. I’ve also heard from others that the writing style is atrocious. Other reviewers have said it’s a good story, but the racier parts really aren’t that racy. I guess I’ll find out. What did you think?