A Dance With Dragons (Part One): Dreams and Dust: Book 5 of a Song of Ice and Fire
1 journaler for this copy...
At the end of the previous book, Martin wrote that he'd originally intended to publish both A Feast for Crows and at least the first half of this book as one book. Instead of simply chopping the book in half, he opted to split the story threads by character. Now that I've read this book, I feel that splitting the book in half would actually have worked pretty well. Normally, the first half of each GoT book tends to be rather dull, mostly focusing on setting up all the characters and places needed for the main events. In this book, this was different in that the first half already contained plenty of twists and shocking revelations.
By my estimation, the half point of the (combined book) would have been about the time of (combined spoilers for both books, highlight to make visible) Arya leaving the Temple of Black and White to become "Cat of the Cannals", Bran meeting the three-eyed crow, Brienne meeting Pod, Daenerys learning that one of her dragons killed a child, Davos learning about his impending execution, Jaime leaving King's Landing, Jon killing Slynt, and Tyrion being in danger of drowning, which would have made for a fitting end of a book, though with slightly more cliffhangers than usual. Actually, it's kinda hard to judge the passing of time, so some fudging of time might have been necessary, but I still think it would have worked out.
In my opinion, the bigger problem by far is the sheer amount of leading characters. As of this book, there are 11 protagonists still (known to be) alive who featured in more than three chapters, 5 who featured in more than one, and 3 more who each got a single chapter so far. Furthermore, 5 of the latter group are completely new characters only introduced within the last two books. Splitting the books by characters and location helped a lot in keeping the different plot threads separated.
Listing the sections by character is a bit more complicated this time than normally because we got a few one-time chapters from characters who, other than in the previous book, cannot be neatly grouped together. I'll just lump them together with the more prominent character with whom they can be most closely associated.
Now that Bran has finally met the three-eyed crow, it seems like his arc is pretty much at an end. It looks like his fate is to literally strike roots and never leave the caverns again. Through his connection to the weirwoods, he may provide insights into key events past, present and future, but it does look like his days as active player are over. Unless something drastic were to happen (invasion of the caves?) that would force him and the others to flee elsewhere.
Bran's view through the weirwood eyes was fascinating, though I wish we had lingered somewhat longer in the recent past showing images of Ned and his siblings. Also, Bran being able to taste the blood sacrifice was rather creepy.
I was disappointed that we didn't learn Coldhands' identity. Now you could argue that it doesn't matter, but Martin isn't all that subtle about deliberately hiding information, so I'm strongly inclined it does matter. In fact, I've long suspected him to turn out to be Benjen (and have had confirmation that at least in the movies, this is likely to be the case) but even if he isn't, I'd love to learn what sets him apart from the other wights who are incapable of speech and whose only goal is to kill living creatures. That said, I still don't understand the differences (if any) between the wights, Others and White Walkers. Are these just different names for the same type of creatures? There's at least a difference between the former (shambling zombies) and the latter (undead with more cunning and self-control).
I understand why Daenerys is so distraught about the little girl's death but locking her dragons away is not a good solution. I know that she has no idea how they might be trained but if they have to be chained up, she should have at least visited regularly so as to not lose her imprint on them. Directly buying the sheep (or other animals) to feed to her dragons (instead of having to recompensate complaining farmers) would also have been a good idea.
I suspect that Daenerys has no intention of ever using her dragons as weapons again but also can't bring herself to put them down (though I really wish there'd been some inner monologue about that topic). Obviously, something will happen that will make releasing the dragons seem like the lesser evil. That, or something where locking them up will prevent them from being able to come to her help (though at least Drogon is still abroad).
Usually prophecies, especially vaguely threatening ones, serve to increase the tension in a story, and Daenerys is no exception. Like Cersei, she's worried about being betrayed, though unlike Cersei, she doesn't let her mistrust overwhelm her. I still think that her conviction that Ser Jorah being "the Usurper"'s informer is misguided, though understandable. It was certainly a betrayal but the cost wasn't high enough (he personally saved her life in the ensuing assassination attempt) to be described as treason. Now Ben Plumm changing allegiance... that might count as treason as it means she loses a portion of her army.
Daenerys has no idea of the many suitors making their way to her, so her plans to marry a Meereenese nobleman to appease the rioting city provide some interesting timing. Her infatuation with Daario seems a bit over the top. We know too little about him (and his description doesn't sound even remotely appealing) for me to really get her attraction.
I wonder what she would/will make of her nephew being alive. Since she fully expected to marry her brother one day, marrying her nephew wouldn't weird her out at all, but would she be upset to learn she doesn't have the best claim to throne after all?
I had my suspicions whether Davos was really dead (Martin has pulled that one too often to really trust any third-hand impressions), but I didn't see why or how Manderly could pull off a fake execution, so I ended up being pleasantly surprised anyway. For me the bigger twist was the reveal that someone (aside from Theon and Ramsay) knows about Bran and Rickon having escaped and that apparently we're going to find out where Rickon's been hiding. (The mention of cannibals makes me think it's Skagos.)
Jon (and Melisandre)
I was really displeased with Jon's first two chapters in this book as they basically retell the exact same events we'd already seen through Samwell's eyes in the previous book, something that Martin had so far managed to avoid despite the plethora of interwoven characters. Jon's second chapter was particularly clumsy in that it repeated the exact same dialogue (wording at all), which would have been boring enough by itself, but rereading it from Jon's perspective didn't even add any new revelations. I get the feeling that Martin had originally written the chapter from Jon's perspective and only after deciding on a subset of characters for "A Feast for Crows" went back to rewrite the dialogue from Samwell's perspective (which was fine; I never noticed anything off with it). At this point, he should have scrapped Jon's original chapter, but for some reason he was loath to do so. I suspect his main reason for keeping it was Jon's mantra "Kill the boy to be a man" (referring to himself and his youthful idealism), but honestly there would have been a dozen ways to bring that across better. For example, Jon's story could have picked up after Sam and Gilly left. He might have wondered whether he did the right thing, he could have remembered his talks with Sam and Gilly (summarizing the dialogue), and the phrase could have been dropped there. Alternatively (or in addition to that), it could have been inserted at later points in the plot where Jon has to be tougher than he'd like to be (when Mance is burned, when he kills Slynt, when his men criticize his decision to trust the wildlings) or when he wonders whether Sam's ship might have sunk.
This feels like a rant and I guess it is, but in my opinion Jon's early chapters are the biggest flaw of this book.
Due to the previous book I already knew that Jon had (was going to) swap Dalla's and Gilly's babies, so aside from the exact nature of Jon's threat we didn't learn anything new from his conversation with Gilly. I really think Martin should have just treated that aspect of the story of a done deal and continued with anything happening to Jon after the fact.
I didn't expect Slynt to be killed at all (or Jon to be his executioner) because I would have figured Cersei to have heard about it (and, as usually, be upset about "Ned's bastard" messing up her plans).
I highly approve of Jon's decision to try to integrate the wildlings into the Night's Watch. Sure, he's taking a risk but there are too few men in the Night's Watch to continue fighting both the wildlings and the wights. Plus, the Others are their common enemy.
I had read that Jon would (attempt to) rescue the fake "Arya" from Ramsay's clutches, so I was confused when he sent out "Rattleshirt" (Mance) instead. I guess this might mean that the spoilers I read referred to the tv series, or alternatively that Jon's involvement is still to take place.
I was pleasantly surprised about Melisandre's chapter. For one, I hadn't expected to get an inside view into this mysterious character; for another, I found her much more sympathetic than I had anticipated. It appears, she's not nearly as powerhungry as I had thought but actually loyal to Stannis whom she truly believes to be the prophecied hero to vanquish the Dark. What really confuses me, though, is why she decided to spare Mance and burn Rattleshirt instead. I thought it was her idea all along (which she was very insistent about) to sacrifice kings' blood to strengthen her own king. I see why Stannis would want Mance Raider dead (betraying the Night's Watch vows is punishable by death) but why would Melisandre prefer to keep him specifically alive?
I suspect that the towers Melisandre saw in her vision aren't really Eastwatch. Maybe Meereen? Oldtown? I didn't recognize the description of the towers...
Quentyn (and Areo Hotah)
While I sort of like Quentyn as a character, I feel that so far he doesn't add much to the story. The only story-relevant piece of information I have courtesy of his chapters is that the Westerosi members of the Windblown company that have joined Daario's army are supposed to infiltrate Daenerys' circle. It'll be interesting to see whether Quentyn will manage to convince Daenerys of his good intentions.
I don't see the purpose of getting an update on the situation in Dorne near the end of the book. What's the point of having Ser Boros arrive at Sunspear if he doesn't get to meet Myrcella yet. We learn that Cersei has been busy plotting against Dorne (while trying to bring them to her side) and the prince responds by sending his nieces to strategically important positions. This is not boring, but I wonder what it's supposed to add to this book instead of delaying it to the next one.
Theon (and Asha)
I spent a couple of books believing Theon dead (something I was glad about at the time) but I was surprisingly happy to meet him again. Well, not happy exactly as his chapters, focusing on Ramsay's atrocities, are particularly hard to stomach, but "Reek" is a much more sympathetic character than Theon ever was, even when "pretending" to be then latter. Obviously, I feel sorry for Reek/Theon but the chapters certainly are interesting. Gods, I hope that the Boltons will receive their just punishment soon. I'm wondering: was Manderly (trying to) poison them at the wedding? Or did he "merely" serve them human meat (the missing Freys, I guess)? His demand for the "Rat Cook" song makes me strongly suspect the latter, but I wonder what Manderly is playing at. It seems like petty revenge that won't gain Stannis' approval when the time comes to switch sides.
Poor Jayne! I sure hope Mance is quick about rescuing her, though Melisandre's vision showed her fleeing on her own.
I liked Asha's chapter. Not sure why, I guess I like her character, and her dedication to her men served as a nice contrast to Theon convincing the remaining soldiers at Moat Cailin to give up the fort, fully knowing he was leading them to their doom. (Though I suppose the extent of his brainwashing does count as mitigating circumstances of a sort.)
I was initially puzzled by Asha's epiphany, but later I realized that Theon (unexpectedly) being alive that he'd missed out of a chance to stake his claim at the Kingsmoot. It's unclear whether Asha was hoping to convince him to support her own claim, whether she figured having her brother as king would be preferable to her uncle (especially if that got her out of that arranged marriage), or whether having another major claimant turn up would just reset the voting process. It seems a moot point now that she's been captured but, again, the fact that Martin kept it hidden makes me think she'll get her chance to at least try going for a second Queensmoot.
Tyrion (and Griff)
Since no had presented Cersei with Tyrion's head in the previous book, I was pretty sure that he wasn't going to get caught in this one, but I still had no idea where he was hiding and what he was doing. It turns out that he was sent en route to meet Daenerys, though I'm still not entirely sure why. What did Illyrio hope to achieve by that? And why is he so sure that Tyrion would be on Daenerys' side? Ironically, Ser Jorah had the exact same idea but is presumably aiming to present Tyrion as Daenerys' enemy. Personally, I think that while Daenerys would be horrified that Tyrion is supposed to have murdered his nephew, he still has two avenues: he could either try to convince her he was framed, or he could explain why Joffrey was a horrible king and generally an evil person. If she takes offense at his father's murder he has the perfect sob story to tell. Plus, he is bound to be useful, knowing as much as he does not only about his family and the political situation in Westeros but also about dragons.
I'm a bit surprised that Tyrion took his father's comment "Where whores go" so seriously because personally I read it as a "I don't know and couldn't care less". Obviously I'm missing the tone of voice, so if Tyrion is reading more into that comment, maybe Tywin did know more about Tysha's fate. Maybe he personally arranged for her to be shipped off to some distant brothel. (That, or Tyrion is letting desperate hope delude himself.)
I'm stoked that the threads of the Westerosi characters on the one hand and Daenerys (who, aside from very loose connections, has stood apart for six books) on the other are finally about to meet. For some reason (possibly because they're both my favourite characters), I'm especially happy that it's Tyrion whose edging into Daenerys' plot thread by meeting Illyrio (where it all began) and Ser Jorah (still an important figure) and even an unexpected relative.
Could the slaver possibly be one of the Crow's Eye's fleet (though they'd probably proudly fly their kraken)? In an area where they're surrounded by enemies (Volantene, Yunkai'i, Stonemen, Dothraki, Ironmen), the idea that it could be a completely new enemy seems strange but maybe this means we're going to see Valyria... or there's a fight they somehow manage to win.
Like Tyrion, I am deeply skeptical as to Young Griff's parentage. The in-story reason was also briefly touched by Tyrion, namely how young Aegon would have managed to escape his murderer. The explanation that he was switched (which seems to happen a lot) doesn't answer the question whether Elia knew the child that was murdered by Ser Gregor wasn't her own son. The only way for her not to know would be for the children to have been swapped at birth (but why, at that point?) and if she did know... I don't know it just doesn't fit. My second reason is based on meta knowledge, namely the fact that Martin spent thousands of pages building up Daenerys' role as the claimant to the royal line, so him now presenting an alternative heir seems extremely sketchy, especially considering that there are (supposedly) only three books left. I guess it's possible that Aegon is the real Targaryen prince but that something will happen to him to make him ineligible anyway (not necessarily death). However, I think it's more likely he's actually a puppet set up by Varys and Illyrio. The boy certainly believes he's Aegon come again and his companions at least appear to believe it, but that doesn't have to mean it's actually true.
Either way, the introduction of this new character has the potential to shake up a lot of characters' well-laid plans.
The theme for this book was subterfuge or possibly mummery due to the many people pretending to be someone else and the general importance of "turncloak" characters. An unusual amount even by GoT standards, I must say. But I loved it!
I've spend the last three months reading these books, so it's a strange feeling to know that there's only one more book out there before I too have to join the ranks of patiently (or not so patiently) waiting fans.
Next book: A Dance with Dragons II: After the Feast