George R. R. Martin's 'A Dance With Dragons': The EW review

Back in 2005, George R.R. Martin released A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in his fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (the basis for HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones). Despite its almost-800-page length, Crows was only half a novel, really. The author admitted that the sheer size of his ambitious narrative had forced him to split one planned book in two. What’s more, many of his most beloved characters were absent from Crows.

But now the second half of that tale has arrived. And if Crows was only half a novel, A Dance With Dragons is its opposite: By turns thrilling, funny, scary, emotionally devastating, oddly inspirational, and just plain grand, it feels like a compilation of several different great fantasy novels as it pulls together the disparate characters’ story lines. The imp Tyrion Lannister finds himself on a genuine quest, traveling by land and sea. Jon Snow, hero of the icy north, is building an army to battle an ancient evil. Daenerys Targaryen, the Dragon Queen, must contend with far more human concerns, ruling a rowdy city-state whose government rivals The Wire‘s Baltimore in complexity. There’s a pirate lord sailing through mystical waters, a warrior princess rebelling against kings, and an imprisoned traitor-prince brutalized by his captors. (And these last three are all members of the same family!) But Dragons is also a brilliantly unified work: Each character is struggling, in his or her own way, to create order out of chaos.

Halfway through, one character says, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” In Dragons, “a thousand lives” is a low estimate. This is top-notch kitchen-sink storytelling — part straightforward pulp, part high fantasy — that will leave you thirsty for more. Luckily, Martin has two more books on the way. But let’s not rush the man, people: When the writing is this good, it’s worth the wait.

Grade: A

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read More:
Q&A: George R.R. Martin talks ‘Dance With Dragons,’ ‘Game of Thrones’

Comments (60 total) Add your comment
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  • Tom Strong


    • crispy

      LOL! I think if Stephenie Meyer read one of these books, her little Mormon brain would explode.

      • jinq

        What does being Mormon have to do with anything? Meyer’s books were written in a specific genre, aimed at a specific audience… there is simply no comparison.

      • Mother Nature

        Meyer has stated publicly that, because of her faith, she doesn’t watch rated ‘R’ movies, or read books with salacious plots, etc. Martin’s use of violence and sex and characters with some rather loose moral compasses would likely be a shock to Meyer’s system. And you’re right: Martin’s audience is literate adults.

      • Nancy

        Considered to be a hugely unappreciated novel, Waltzing with Unicorns, it has an almost like cult-classic following in the underground sci-fi/fantasy discussion boards on the Internet.

        A dark romantic surreal tale about your average bored housewife at Nordstroms who is unwittingly transported into a seedy alternative reality unknowingly created by tearing open the fabric of space-time from incurring more financial debt than her inattentive and sadly desensitized husband could ever possibly afford on purchasing extravagant Italian shoes, purple cat trees, and imported Merlot from New Patagonia organic growers; this brilliant and rich escapism story involving real adventure, battling evil xanax misfits, zombie exlovers, and ralph the snarky part-time barista unicorn, unknown to her, turns out to be for the reader, an elegantly portrayed protagonist – in what many in the cosplay underground personally consider to be the next “Twilight” or “Harry Potter” series. I don’t want to give away the ending to the usual over-caffinated barns and noble lonesome grazers out there, but you will definitely not want to miss purchasing this for your summer reading bliss.

      • BFD

        If you limit what you read, watch, expose yourself to you limit your growth as a human being. That’s why Stephanie Meyers characters are so one dimensional. There’s no comparison between the Twilight books and Song of Fire and Ice books because the Twilight books have no depth. Heck, you can get more depth out of a Ziggy comic strip.

      • Mmmm

        its got some hunky looking vampire character that does anything that moves, I’m so there!

  • jvc

    I just finished Feast this morning. Can’t wait to jump into this one. Glad to know it’s getting great reviews.

    • Mmmm

      It’s like literary bulimia, minus all the the guilt and antacid.

    • Marin

      I’ve just finished Feast this weekend, and I tried to wait awhile to read it after getting sucked into the first three to prolong the enjoyment, but I couldn’t! I love that this is going to tie some things up, I’m very much looking forward to that!! :) I’ve ordered from Amazon and keep checking to see when it has shipped.

  • jj

    Starting Feast today…..lost myself in the first three. What a series.
    These are the most AMAZING books!
    So glad Dragons gets your great review.

    • TV_Pete

      I thought Martin’s first three were well-focused and well written.

      While his 4th was good, it was lacking. I could tell that Martin struggled writing it (preferring to watch football and blog about Obama and Unions). For most people, it was a decent book, but by far it was Martin’s weakest to date, IMO.

      I hope Dragon, his 5th, is written more like the first 3.

      • jinq

        Pete, I take it you are not a writer yourself? The quality of the finished product doesn’t show the blood, sweat and tears that go into the writing. There are times you struggle, there are times you need to step away for a while to gain new perspective. “Middle book syndrome” strikes the very best of them ~ and Martin is, IMHO, among the best.

  • Lori

    I have read many books, George R. R. Martin’s included, and MY MORMON BRAIN, didn’t explode. My Mormon brain definitely turned off when I read the first chapter of Meyer’s “Twilight” though.It has nothing to do with being Mormon, yet has everything to do with appreciating excellent writing and storytelling skills.

    • wierdalexj

      Well said Lori! I have ADWD in my hands right now and I can’t wait to dive into it when I get off BART!

    • Kirsten

      Yes, I’m pretty sure my Mormon brain can handle it too. I haven’t read the books yet, but plan to after watching the first season of Game of Thrones.

      But I defend her right to not want to watch stuff like that. That doesn’t mean her mind can’t handle it, but she chooses not to have stuff like that in her life. Some people don’t like fantasy or sf at all, but it’s not because their minds can’t handle it, it’s because they don’t care to watch or read it.

  • AB

    Still getting through AFFC. It’s not as good as the first 3 but its making me drool for Dance. It’s sooo hard to avoid spoilers but I know I’ll be happy I did. I read spoilers for books 2-4 when I was reading books 1 and 2 and was sorry I did.
    Can’t wait, these books are amazing!

  • Ryan

    I have to take exception with this part of the review

    “Luckily, Martin has two more books on the way. But let’s not rush the man, people: When the writing is this good, it’s worth the wait.”

    This book has taken near a decade to come out. This series needs to be completed sooner than later. I hate the way this sounds, but I do not want to run into a wheel of time scenario where the author passes away before the series is over.

    • jinq

      Martin has repeatedly said he struggled with the writing of this book, and I believe it… a least for the first few years. I hate to be a cynic, but it’s hard not to believe at least a few years’ worth of the delay had to do with ‘Game of Thrones’ being optioned by HBO ~ giving new fans the opportunity to read all the prior books before releasing this one, thus practically guaranteeing good sales. At least we didn’t have to wait as long as we waited for the end of King’s Dark Tower series!

      • Gusteaux

        There is a new Dark Tower book coming out next year. It tells the story of what happens to the Roland, Jake, Eddie, Suzannah and Oy Ka-Tet between books four and five.

      • thin

        Two things: if this was the Dark Tower series, at this point we’d be having a book coming out every year. And they’d be total crap.

        Second: the amount of time spent on the TV series was pretty well-documented on his blog, from taking initial meetings all the way through to premiering, and it does not account for anything close to “years.”

      • Fred

        The upside of that is of course that first off, Martin has finally “solved” the chronological conundrums that were giving him writer’s block, as evidenced by the release of ADWD; secondly, a lot of evidence points to the fact that the hooplah surrounding the HBO series, and Martin’s involvement in it did the opposite to hinder him. Rather, it focussed his brain on Westeros again, and finally got him over the “hump”. So if anything, the other books should come more easily because of the TV series!

    • the minister

      What you meant to say is: “I do not want to run into a wheel of time scenario where the author [got totally frakkin senile] before the series is over.”
      Wheel of Time became a huge joke after book 5 or so. (Read the Amazon reviews after book 7+; they are a comedy genre unto themselves.)
      In fact it’s better that Jordan died. The new guy Sanderson isn’t perfect, but he’s doin’ a fair job wrapping things up, far better than (misogynist tea set and dress fetishist) Jordan.

    • Ken Breadner

      The series does not NEED to be completed. As good as these novels are, an author does not work in chains and should not be forced to. Or, as Neil Gaiman famously said, “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch”.

      • Laji

        I’m so glad someone else has said this, too. I don’t get how readers think they’re *entitled* to the extractions of an author’s brain. Someone made the choice to write a story. Readers made the choice to buy the finished book(s). There’s no contract that says the author must please those readers by completing the rest of the story on a two-year cycle. Take these as life lessons: patience is often rewarded; you can’t always have what you want; there isn’t always going to be closure.

      • thin

        I almost posted that awesome quote to the earlier poster who was griping about GRRM’s blog that talks about politics and football. Heaven forbid the man have a life and interests outside of writing these books.

      • Hans

        Cosmomakeup on August 30, 2011 i like my big wide smile! i dfeenitily do not have straight & white teeth but i do not let my teeth prevent me from smiling! in my opinion, smiles can bring people together and cheer up a stranger’s day, therefore i want to spread and share my happiness with others

  • jinq

    Checked my Kindle every half-hour from midnight on… book finally arrived at 4 AM and I’ve been reading it ever since. As usual, some POVs grip me more than others, but the man’s characterization and plotting blow me away every time.

    • dee

      that’s funny because I was checking my Nook every ten minutes and I was mad that I didn’t get mine until one am! But I do love ADWD.

  • bob from binghamton

    Just got this from Amazon, so now I can finally re-read the earlier books since I’ve forgotten most of what happened. And I don’t have a lot of faith I’ll still be around to see the end of the series.

    • thin

      Why would you have to wait for the new book to come out before re-reading the older ones?

      • Mmmm

        It’s easy for forget such forgettable stories. Don’t feel bad.

      • thin

        That’s funny, moron, but it doesn’t answer the question.

    • Ram

      asrxlpaet02 on October 20, 2011 i think rambo should be made into a video game because it was a very popular and exciting movie that would very fun to play. i think this because he snipes, sneaks, and ambushes people. this would be a high selling game.

  • ks

    Got it this morning on my kindle-so far it is great :)
    Thanks for the good review

    • Sameh

      I used the first book with sntteuds in a history class last year. It was a good one. The craft ideas are fun, too!

  • BonBon

    So now that this book is out, what’s the over/under on the number of years it takes Martin to finish the next installment?

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  • Michelle

    I’m about 300 pages in. All I have to say is OMG. ;)

  • vicky

    I’m about 120 pages in and i’m worried…Where is Arya?!

    • ash

      Lol. I take it, its been a while since you read the last book and/or you skipped Martin’s ‘A Cavil on Chronology’ at the start of the book.

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  • Elisa

    My book has been ship and will be coming today. I cannot wait to get my hands on it! MA thesis be damned!

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