four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-DanceDragonsSix years in the making, A Dance with Dragons continues fantasy giant George R. R. Martin's remarkable series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Following the underrated A Feast for Crows (4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2006), the latest volume--the fifth in a planned seven-volume run--reprises the series' most important characters and sets the stage for an anarchic grab for the Iron Throne and control of the Seven Kingdoms.

The Story: In A Dance with Dragons, all the players, great and small, return in a continuation of the political and social history of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. There's Jon Snow, the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, whose job is to sit atop the Wall in the north and to protect his people from the Others; Daenerys Targaryen, the daughter of one of the most powerful kings of Westeros, who, along with her unlikely retinue, seeks to unite the throne; and Tyrion Lannister, the brilliant, savvy dwarf who uses his relative obscurity to his advantage. And don't forget Theon Greyjoy, Stannis Baratheon, Arya Stark, and a cast, literally, of thousands. In his ambitious vision, George R. R. Martin offers up a sprawling, enthralling series as complex and rich ("Every person, every wood and stream and street corner has its own tale," Lev Grossman writes) as the length of the volume implies.
Bantam. 1040 pp. $35. ISBN: 9780553801477.

Los Angeles Times 5 of 5 Stars
"Martin's love for sophisticated, deeply strange fantasy permeates Dance like a phantasmagorical fever dream. ... Having overcome the writerly challenges of a series grown longer than expected--and having survived the well-documented hostility of those readers who have displayed a grotesque sense of entitlement over publication delays--Martin seems poised in the last two books to bring home one of the best series in the history of fantasy." Jeff VanderMeer

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Martin is the kind of writer who needs to be read with an A Song of Ice and Fire encyclopedia at hand to catch all the layered, subtle hints and details that he leaves throughout his books. ... Fans should and will rush to buy A Dance with Dragons because no one, and I mean no one--not even the most sharp-eyed of Martin readers--will be able to guess where this series is going." Megan Wasson

Newsday 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Half the fun of A Song of Ice and Fire comes from the shocking deaths, impossible resurrections and discarded disguises--many of which aren't obvious on your first trip through the book. Martin has constructed the story on two levels--one for the reader powering through to the tragic, deliberately Shakespearean finale, another for that same reader going back to find what he missed." Sam Thielman

io9 4 of 5 Stars
"[A Dance with Dragons] is a brilliant, horrifying, depressing book that takes the characters Martin made you fall in love with, and plunges them just a little bit deeper into hell." Charlie Jane Anders

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Dragons is well worth the wait, but like the other 1,000-page tomes in the series, it leaves us wanting more--and wondering if the author knows where all these myriad story threads ultimately will lead. Epic sprawl is one of the most engaging qualities of Martin's addictive masterwork." Steve Bennett

Time 4 of 5 Stars
"Martin has produced--is producing, since the series isn't over--the great fantasy epic of our era. ... Martin will never win a Pulitzer or a National Book Award, but his skill as a crafter of narrative exceeds that of almost any literary novelist writing today." Lev Grossman

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire will surely think the wait was worth it. ... The great attraction of the story must lie in its panorama of a medieval kingdom: knights in armor, mercenary ‘sellswords,' tavern wenches, struggling and surviving inhabitants in all forms, from low to high." Tom Shippey

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Filled with vividly rendered set pieces, unexpected turnings, assorted cliffhangers and moments of appalling cruelty, A Dance With Dragons is epic fantasy as it should be written: passionate, compelling, convincingly detailed and thoroughly imagined. Despite a number of overtly fantastic elements (dragons, seers, shape shifters and sorcerers), the book--and the series as a whole--feels grounded in the brutal reality of medieval times and has more in common with the Wars of the Roses than it does with The Lord of the Rings." Bill Sheehan

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Martin is a literary dervish, enthralled by complicated characters and vivid language, and bursting with the wild vision of the very best tale tellers. ... The biggest headache with A Dance With Dragons is that it's just a 1,016-page installment in a mammoth novel that so far totals 1,742,848 words." Dana Jennings

Critical Summary

George R. R. Martin, already a rock star in fantasy circles, found a new audience for his books when HBO adapted his A Game of Thrones. The series became a small-screen phenomenon and made Martin a household name, even with more "mainstream" readers. Although A Dance with Dragons was originally conceived as part of the previous installment, A Feast for Crows, Martin's vision grew so unwieldy that the author split the two. So much the better. Martin hits his stride here, returning to the realm of truly epic fantasy. The author's sure-handed storytelling (he keeps nearly a dozen story lines going at once) and his willingness to walk a high wire with his characters (spoiler alert: Martin's seeming glee at killing off important figures of his thousand-plus character cast is legendary) bode well for the final two books in the series. When the smoke clears, A Song of Ice and Fire will be spoken about--and deservedly so--alongside J. R. R. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, and may well surpass both.