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Review: A Dance with Dragons pt1 by George R R Martin

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, new threats are emerging from every direction.

Tyrion Lannister, having killed his father, and wrongfully accused of killing his nephew, has escaped from King’s Landing with a price on his head.
In the north lies the great Wall of ice and stone – a structure only as strong as those guarding it.  Eddard Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow has been elected 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.  But Jon has enemies both inside and beyond the Wall.  And in the east Daenerys Targaryen struggles to hold a city built on dreams and dust.

A Dance with Dragons 1 is my latest conquest in the series A Song of Fire and Ice by George R R Martin, the fantasy epic that has taken the UK by storm, due to the popularity of the TV series Game of Thrones.  In the past, I’ve been quite snooty about popular fantasy but from the first chapter of the first book, I was won over by the unusually political machinations of the characters as they plot their ways through a landscape fraught with danger and intrigue.

We’re a long way into an intricately woven, multilayered plot by the time we get to A Dance with Dragons, and many of the characters from the first volume have bitten the dust – even some very important ones – but we’re still following a lucky few who’ve evaded the knives, the poison, the duels, the beheadings… The three key people lucky enough to make it this far right from the start are Daenerys Targaryen, last remnant of the house dethroned by Robert Baratheon, before the start of Game of Thrones; Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s illegitimate son now commanding the Night’s Watch; and Tyrion Lannister, dwarf, kinslayer and claiming to be a kingslayer too, on the run from his sister’s wrath.

I was never a big fan of Daenerys as a character – she seemed too lacking in confidence to be a great heroine – but I’m a big Jon Snow fan, so I’m really pleased he’s made it this far when others have fallen by the wayside.  However, my favourite character, Arya Stark, hasn’t made an appearance for ages! This leads me to my one real frustration with these books.

The scope of A Song of Fire and Ice is so huge, it’s dizzying.  That, in itself, isn’t a problem, but the way in which Martin deal with it can be very confusing.  It turns out that this book, the first part of A Dance with Dragons, doesn’t follow on from installment 4, A Feast for Crows.  Instead it runs concurrently for all of part 1, eventually extending the story around half way past part 2, which is nothing if not a little confusing.  The reader is effectively going back in time in some of the lives of the characters.  Also, the world the story covers is enormous, with a similarly huge cast, all apparently set on their various diverging and converging paths towards world domination.  While I had no difficulty remembering who was who and what they were up to, I would have liked more consistency with the appearances of the various character sets.  That way, I’d feel like I knew what each group was up to at that point in time.  At the moment, I’m not 100% sure what the time frame is.

If I’m honest, even the confusions in the timeline couldn’t put me off this series.  I’m hooked.  The characters are really fascinating, with all their underhanded deeds, and I actually really enjoyed the sense of realism in terms of the political and warfare aspects of the book. Yes, there is magic, yes there are strange creatures and things unexplained by science but it doesn’t dominate the atmosphere of the book.  The characters treat these things are part of everyday life, so I’m able to accept them as natural in that context.

Clearly this is an extremely popular series, and I’m sure will continue to be so, however large the gap between ADwD and the next book (hopefully not 5 years this time). A definite thumbs up from me, and a recommendation to those who like something historical, political, full of twists and turns but with plenty of patience for the long haul.

Kate Neilan
@magic_kitten

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