This is, of course, the long-awaited fifth book in the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire and it takes up the story of perhaps the three best characters: Jon Snow (not the newscaster), Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. These characters were conspicuous in their absence from the equally long-awaited fourth volume, A Feast for Crows; much of Dance is therefore contemporary with its predecessor; towards the end, however, the timelines of the two books merge and other characters, such as Jaime and Cersei Lannister and Arya Stark, make appearances.
It’s a long book – this is epic fantasy, after all – at a little under a thousand pages. You’d think that, after five years of writing it and such a bloated page count, a lot would happen in this fifth of a promised seven books. Stuff does happen of course, but nothing hugely momentous, really. Jon manages men on the Wall; Daenerys does much the same in Meereen; Tyrion has the most interesting narrative, but he doesn’t have much control over it, being passed from pillar to post. Theon Greyjoy also has a fairly prominent role, but he gets faded to the back of the mix as the book progresses; ditto Bran Stark.
Minor characters also crop up along with the aforementioned major players who rejoin the narrative near the end. Each has minor character that gets a viewpoint character necessitates several pages of exposition detailing their backstory; such infodump is, I find, acceptable at the start of a book, but, at the end, it just bogs things down and dilutes the sense of a rising climax. I wonder how necessary they are, as well, being fairly small links in an already mighty chain.
An important new character emerges in this book – another Targaryen, and yet another claimant to the Iron Throne of Westeros. Unlike Daenerys, he actually leads an initially successful invasion of the western continent, leading me to think he’s fulfilling Daenerys’s narrative purpose since the Mother of Dragons lost her way occupying the slave city of Meereen.
Most frustratingly of all, pretty much all of the plotlines end in cliffhangers that probably won’t be resolved for another five years.
Also most frustratingly – if you’ll grant me the contradiction – are some frequent problematic lexical choices. Firstly, Martin often uses the word ‘oft’; a word that is described in dictionaries as being ‘poetical’ or ‘literary’ – which basically means ‘pretentious’; it’s oft-used here, and grates consistently. Worse than this are two equally over-used words that are actually incorrect. ‘Wroth’ is an adjective that means ‘angry’ or ‘wrathful’; however, Martin uses it repeatedly to mean ‘wrath’, which is a noun. Presumably, he’s confused by the British pronunciation of ‘wrath’, which is ‘roth’ or ‘rawth’. He also uses the word ‘mayhaps’, the etymology of which Wiktionary defines as ‘A misconstruction of mayhap after maybe and perhaps.’ This particular lexeme isn’t even listed on Dictionary.com.
On the whole, then, it seems that I didn’t really enjoy this book. On the plus side, it’s quite readable. There are a couple of notable scenes where very striking events take place – particularly one involving Daenerys and a dragon – but they’re not really followed up in this volume. The titular dance with dragons is a ponderous affair, and the dragons themselves are sorely under-used – no doubt because of the quite logical problems one would have in dealing with a fire-breathing wild animal. This book is very much a chapter in the overall story. It’s not quite as pointless as Robert Jordan’s Crossroads of Twilight, but it does seem to highlight many similar issues that afflict writers, and, consequently, readers of epic fantasy – namely the risk of sinking in a morass of plotlines.