A Dance With Dragons (A Song Of Ice And Fire book 5) by George R.R. Martin (book review)

July 18, 2016 | By | Reply More

Having your work turned into a popular TV series is an interesting concept, especially when the books it is based on are long, complex and on-going. Charlaine Harris faced this when her ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ vampire novels were converted to the ‘True Blood’ series. It cannot be expected that the translation between media will be absolute and she found the process interesting as they changed storylines and added characters while remaining true to the concept. George R.R. Martin has the same kind of problem with the added issue that he is a slow writer. The next season of ‘Game Of Throne’s starts where this book finishes. The question to be asked is whether ‘The Winds Of Winter’ will be based on Martin’s work because he has more or less finished the book or if the book will be influenced by the direction the script writers want to take it. Time will tell.


This, however, is a review of the 2013 book ‘A Dance With Dragons’, not a comparison between it and the small screen version. All the volumes in the ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’ archology are big, spanning the politics and internecine strife of an entire continent. The cast of characters is huge (they are listed in appendices at the end) and holding them all in mind is not easy. The interactions between them is complex and it is to Martin’s credit that he manages to keep them all in the roles he has created for them. But if a story is to flow and the reader to feel that they are in touch with all the events, there have to be sacrifices. Some characters that had prominence in the previous volume, ‘A Feast For Crows’, have been pushed into the background and others brought to the fore. Three areas are singled out to carry the story forward in this volume.

Daenerys Targaryen is one of a number of pretenders to the Iron Throne in Westeros. Currently, she is across the sea in Valyria. Initially, she and her brother went there hoping to raise armies to back his claim but now she is bogged down in Meereen, a city she captured. She freed all the slaves displeasing scions of all the other cities on the continent as their trade relies on slavery. Instead of gathering an army to march on Westeros, she struggles to keep control of what she has, despite having three dragons at her command (well nearly). Travelling towards her, in the hope of marrying her and becoming stronger claimants to the Iron Throne are several suitors. Also heading for Meereen is Tyrion. He is one of the most interesting characters in the whole sequence, not only because he is a dwarf but because he is the brother of Queen Cersei, the mother of the present King of Westeros. He has proved himself an able strategist in the past but events haven’t gone his way and is keeping a low profile.

Meanwhile, in the far North, a vast ice wall separates the civilised south from whatever demons live beyond it. Here, Jon Snow is now commander of the Night’s Watch that keeps anything nasty crossing the Wall. With him is Stannis Baratheon, who styles himself King on the Wall and is another pretender to the Iron Throne. As winter sets in, Jon prepares to let the Free People through the barrier as they flee from the resurrected dead. Meanwhile, Stannis is determined to take his armies south to Winterfell, as the first stage in claiming what he believes is his due.

The third focus of the action centres around Winterfell itself. Roose Bolton, although a minor lord, has ambitions. With his legitimate son dead, he is prepared to work through Ramsey, his bastard. Bolton’s plan is to marry Ramsey to Arya Stark and claim the throne through her line of descent. To cement the claim, he wants the marriage to take place at Winterfell itself, despite the fact that the stronghold is now a ruin. Winter itself is coming and, with it, Stannis.

Other familiar characters do appear but mostly to remind the reader that the world is much wider than these three places and that events do not stand still just because they are not being watched. It is also a means of keeping in touch with their fates and reminding the reader of them, ready for the next instalment.

For followers of the TV series, there are unlikely to be many surprises. To others, Martin reminds us that life is not fair, especially in a land torn apart by conflict. It is not always the expected characters who die and there are deaths aplenty. There are always new things to be discovered about this world as allegiances change. In some respects, it would be better to read the book first, then see how the screenwriters at HBO have managed to bring this fantasy to life. It is not often that the word ‘epic’ can truly be applied to book, but this series deserves it. Like many others, I will be waiting to see what will happen to the characters next and, like real life, it is not something where a resolution is possible. I don’t have to recommend it to those who have already bought Martin’s books, but newcomers do need to start at the beginning with ‘Book One: A Game of Thrones.’

Pauline Morgan

January 2016

(pub: Bantam Dell, 2013. 1152 page paperback. Price: $ 9.99 (US), $11.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-58201-7)

check out websites: http://www.bantamdell.com/ and www.georgerrmartin.com

Category: Books, Fantasy

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