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A Dance With Dragons by George R R Martin

I wonder, does anyone even read these disclaimers? Probably just me. Anyway, as before, this is part of an on-going series. I’ve been reading A Song of Ice and Fire since 2011 for goodness sake. If you haven’t read what comes before on your own head be it. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya 😛

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance — beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys’s claim to Westeros forever.

Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone — a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.

Last week I waffled a little about A Feast For Crows. Now comes the next in the saga, A Dance With Dragons. Everyone that was missing from Crows pops up in Dragons. Winter is still coming, and all the various factions are still attempting to carve out as much power as they can possibly get their hands on.

At the Wall, Jon Snow is attempting to lead the defence of Westeros against the dark forces that are marshalling in the North. He has reached the stage where he will do just about anything he can think of to bolster his depleted forces. He is willing to make deals with everyone from the wildlings to Stannis Baratheon, and everyone in between. The burden of command lies heavy on his young shoulders, and he has to make decisions that even though he knows are right, they are vastly unpopular. It seems that at every turn people are happy to remind him that he still knows nothing, and is well out of his depth. It’s the determination in his character against this adversity that really wins me over. He is steadfast and refuses to back down. Snow is well aware that Westeros has got bigger problems than the near constant state of civil war, and he is one of the few people actively trying to do something about it.

Daenerys is also suffering under the yoke of command. She is now a queen to thousands, but rather than freeing her, it has bound her even more tightly than before. The Mother of Dragons is also beginning to have problems with her kids. Teenagers, eh? Always causing grief. Especially when they can fly and breathe fire. The key question, that Martin is starting to address, is how long can Daenerys hope to retain control over the dragons and her countless followers. Something has got to give, and you get the distinct impression with each chapter she appears in, that is it going to happen soon.

Elsewhere, Tyrion is evolving into something darker than before. He has been painted as a monster for his entire life, and his actions of late tend to indicate that he is starting to think the same. When he is not drunk or whoring, he is becoming consumed by thoughts of revenge. There isn’t a normal family in the nobility of Westeros, but I think the Lannisters take screwed up to a whole new level. I suspect they might be right at the top of the list. Just as well, normal isn’t nearly as much fun. Tyrion and his family have so many issues, it is always a highlight whenever any Lannister shows up.

A thought struck me as I was reading A Dance With Dragons. There are obvious divisions forming within the groups of characters. The established older characters are fighting to cling onto whatever power they have, while younger characters are beginning to step up and replace them. It feels like the closer this series get to its eventual conclusion, the more the author is exploring, and then later re-examining, the ideas of new beginnings and renewal. Change is an almost constant in Westeros, and the effects of this help to keep the labyrinthine narrative sprawling ever forward.

There are some truly shocking moments in this book. Don’t worry I won’t post any spoilers. Martin has taken great pains to establish his characters, and when something terrible happens to anyone of them it always comes as a bit of a surprise. It has also made me a little curious, however, just how far the television adaptation will actually go. I watched the first episode of the new series last week and it was interesting to see elements from both A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons on screen. Will the really horrible bits of the book make it to the screen?

The novel ends with a plethora of unresolved moments, and I can appreciate now why so many readers are keen to read The Winds Of Winter. From my perspective, the book can come out any time between now and season six of the television show and that will fit nicely into my schedule. I can’t wait, I’m looking forward to it already.

A Dance With Dragons is published by Harper Voyager and is available now. You probably already knew, or at least guessed, that.

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