Review of “A Dance with Dragons” by George R.R. Martin

It took me a while to realize that this series hit the wall big time after the 3rd book. I was so into the books after the first three, that it took a long time (well into book 5) for me to notice that the interesting parts of the story weren’t progressing at all.

Nevertheless, I’ll read the rest of the books in the series. There are a couple ways the story could end that would be really good (and delightfully reactionary).

It was interesting to read The 48 Laws of Power while reading the books in this series. Martin’s successful characters follow the laws closely, while the unsuccessful clearly violate one or more laws.

This series was really the first fantasy series that I’ve read (excluding Tolkien). If any readers have other recommendations, leave them in the comments or shoot me an email.


25 Responses to Review of “A Dance with Dragons” by George R.R. Martin

  1. Red says:

    The “first law” series by Joe Abercrombie series is pretty good.

  2. Piglet says:

    While a totally — and I mean totally — different feel, probably the best-written and most sophisticated fantasy series I have read is Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Pretty angsty, though. Tad Williams’s Dragonbone Chair trilogy is more conventional high fantasy but quite well done and thoroughly enjoyable. And if you really want to read a series that hits the wall, the late Robert Jordan is your man, with the multi-thousand page Wheel of Time. Which I love despite its many flaws, and despite the obviously-impending crappy ending.

    • Ariston says:

      When I was a teenager, I tried twice to read Wheel of Time, but gave up early in the fourth book each time.

  3. prfdy says:

    Isegoria had a series of posts on fantasy classics. Where I had read the book in question, I totally agreed with the reviews – and the rest are now on my list. I’d check those out.

    • Isegoria says:

      As prfdy (aka Buckethead) pointed out, I have a series of posts on the Classics of Fantasy — although most of them are classics in the sense of being seminal works, not necessarily popular favorites.

      I might recommend Robert E. Howard’s pulp adventure stories — not just his Conan tales — because they are rip-roarin’ yarns, and they succeed at giving a pre-modern vibe; the characters aren’t 21st-century grad students with swords and spells.

  4. Ariston says:

    The series hit a wall earlier than that; it’s just that the total lack of plot progression doesn’t become obvious until Crows.

    Friends who are watching the TV show ask me about the books and I tell them, “Don’t bother, you’ll only be hurt.” A Game of Thrones was good— the only non–Tolkien fantasy I’ve ever really enjoyed. The writing was of a higher quality in it, the plot was well–established, etc.

    The problem is that the sales got GRRM “protection from editors”; he was able to do whatever he pleased & may have even been tacitly encouraged to stretch the series out. So what was supposed to be a trilogy (A Game of Thrones, A Dance with Dragons, & The Winds of Winter) has been strung out in an unforgivable fashion. All the information you need to know Jon Snow’s parentage is in the first book, for example, and then beat over your head in A Clash of Kings. The wild expansion of PoV characters, the weight of sidelines that are unnecessary to his total plot, & the sheer indulgence of GRRM’s sexual proclivities has led to a potentially fantastic fantasy work turned into a pile of excrement.

    After the awfulness of Dance, I am going to just read spoilers to finish out the plot for me.

    • Ariston says:

      Also, it’s not really fantasy in the typical sense, but Gene Wolfe’s four–part “Book of the New Sun” is the only work of fantasy and science fiction I can put alongside The Lord of the Rings and Dune and its sequels— well, not the ones by his son Brian and the licensed fiction writer–for–hire. Its reactionary conservatism is often blamed for its relative obscurity; however, it is really because the book is too intellectual.

      • Matthew says:

        Wolfe’s “Soldier” series is also very good. I prefer it to any of the Sun cycles, but it is even more difficult a read. The books are ostensibly the journals of a Roman mercenary who fought for the Great King in the second Persian war. At Plataea, he suffered a head injury that has two major effects:

        * he has no long term memory
        * he can see and interact with the gods.

        The mercenary writes fragmentary accounts of his adventures, but he often doesn’t re-read the old parts before writing the latest happenings, so he (and the reader) are often confused.

        So it’s basically Herodotos + Memento, by one of the greatest SF authors.

      • Ariston says:

        I haven’t read the Latro books yet, but they are on the to–do list. My only problem with the Sun series is that The Urth of the New Sun is a little too forward; I liked knowing–but–not–being–sure.

    • Matt says:

      Agreed, Game of Thrones was by far the best book of the series, and if you gave it to a better writer could probably have been one of the greats.

      • Ariston says:

        I think the main issue in modern fiction is not the talent of writers, but of their editors. You can have great geniuses who do not need one or stand in defiance of them (in fantasy, the only and obvious one is Tolkien), but generally they were the great aids of the creative writer. Unfortunately, the old system where publishing was (essentially) make–work for well–educated scions of the ruling class kind of fell aside and the results are obvious.

      • Matt says:

        Martin does need an editor, but that wasn’t what I was thinking of. To be fair, he isn’t really a bad writer in the sense that he can’t put coherent sentences together. He does fine with that part. He mainly has two problems. One is his fascination with the most cartoonish vulgarity and crudity. Take GoT, remove all the graphic depictions of incest and dwarf penis, and what have you lost? The second is that he is writing about, basically, medieval Europe and doesn’t understand a thing about it. He does the aesthetics well enough, but his people are laughable. Tyrion Lannister might be an entertaining character, but he is about as medieval as Barack Obama. He also has not a clue about religion and what motivates people to pursue it, and probably should have just left that part out.

      • Ariston says:

        Well, yeah, the historical stuff is totally insane. And the Red Wedding would have been impossible because its perpetrators would have been exterminated for such a gross violation of guest right. Betraying them on the battlefield though? That would have been fine.

        Martin’s writing is actually quite good in the terms of the high fantasy tradition* in places— for example, Ned’s various recollections of the war & his sister; an excerpt of one of the better ones is here:

        In fact, it’s this attention to detail and style that lets the attentive reader know the answer to one of the book’s alleged “mysteries” after the first book, and that anyone missed it at the end of the second one is evidence of the excellence of modern schooling.

        I agree with you about the luridness, it adds nothing. It’s like graphic “sex” in moves— does it add anything? I think Lust, Caution is a good film, but it wouldn’t have lost anything really in being less explicit. That’s why I said the thing about his “sexual proclivities”; I get the impression he gets off on his own work. I think another thing that happened was the puerile praise of mainstream reviews (NYT, Chicago Sun–Times, praise from other pulp authors, &c) about how “adult” the book was that made the publisher let him loose on the sadism and sex.

        * i.e., he’s no Tolkien, but he’s better than any other high fantasy author

      • Matt says:

        It’s funny you said that about the Red Wedding, the blatant implausibility of which has annoyed me for years.

        I’m not the one to judge the merits of the genre…I’ve only read LOTR, Narnia, and most of WoT and ASOIAF, but for sheer wordsmithing I’d say Martin is as good as Stephen King or Dean Koontz. It’s just all the other stuff that drives me up the wall.

  5. asdf says:

    I’m partway through the 3rd book and vastly dissapointed compared to the series.

  6. Candide III says:

    I could not recommend more the first three books of the Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin (the fourth and fifth volumes were written quite a while after the first three and are much too feminist to my taste). There is not much action in the books. Why does an individual act as he does, what is responsibility, what is a complete personality, these are the kind of questions that occupy LeGuin’s heroes.
    The Amber series by Roger Zelazny also has a philosophical streak, but features more fighting and family politics and is fun rather than serious. The first five books are head and shoulders above the last five (again, written much later than the first five; I’ve never reread them, while the first five I reread regularly).

  7. FD says:

    Seconding the First Law and New Sun recommendations.

  8. The Dying Earth by Jack Vance is a must read. People say his Lyonesse stuff is good but it was not to my taste.

  9. Matt says:

    I read the first three in bulk, then the fourth was just…bad. Not just ‘bad compared to the first three’, the refrain you sometimes hear on the internet, but bad compared to anything. I haven’t read the fifth but I hear it is no better. If Martin were wise he would quickly write the rest of them, because another 10 year wait or whatever is going to kill off what interest the HBO show has kindled.

  10. If you’re interested in a bildungsroman, I highly recommend the Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander.

  11. PA says:

    I liked the original “Dragonlance” trilogy as a teenager (Weiss/Hickman). A memorable, well-developed set of characters is one of its biggest strengths.

  12. someguy says:

    you people sure are repressed and puritanical

  13. Ulick McGee says:

    The Dying Earth is outstanding. Vance is one of the greatest Science Fantasy writers of all time and if you haven’t read him, you are in for a treat. Agree with Nick Caruso, a must read.

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