George R R Martin finally satisifies his fans

George RR Martin. A Dance with Dragons (Bantam Books 2011).

See my review:

But I want here to add a few further notes on the ways in which Martin has widened the scope of the series with this novel.

I mention Tyrion in the review, & how much his perceptions (& perceptiveness) add to readers’ sense of other parts of the world, the Free Cities etc. When we only had the view of Daenarys Targaryen & her followers, the sense of these continents & countries was limited, partly because, for all her growing understanding, she is very young, & also limited to the places she has been. Tyrion travels with a number of very different people, & thus sees far more. As well, a few others travel across these sites, & also see other aspects of the world. It’s true that Arya has seen one city very well, but she too is limited by what she must do & her youth.

Tyrion’s actions in A Dance with Dragons provide Martin with an opportunity to begin to show his readers the breadth of the other continents & the various ways of life in these territories. With various companions, Tyrion travels first across the lands of the Free Cities, & then across wider oceans, eventually enbding up as a slave in the city where Daenarys supposedly rules. Given his intelligence, slyness, & perspicacity, Tyrion can offer insights into this dangerous world few other characters could match. Nevertheless, Daenerys’s experiences in Valeria, this still young woman’s attempts to grow into a ruler who rules wisely, as well as the thoughts & actions of some of those around her (for Martin gives a few of them POV chapters too) also adds to the general knowledge of this expansive (& expanding volume by volume) world.

Martin continues to harm or even kill characters readers have come to care about. As he has expanded the horizons of his world, he has also constructed ever more difficult situations his characters have to face. Jon Snow, for example, is still a very young man, as he tries to rally forces at The Wall, & control the Black Brothers. Things do not always go well there, not least because no one further south really believes in the trouble he sees coming, not even Stannis, who has been there with his forces (& what happens to them is harsh, too).

Some characters, of lesser importance, have suffered a fall from grace or risen somewhat in the riven hierarchy of Westeros. Theon Greyjoy, for example, becomes an important POV character in the north, as various groups battle for supremacy there, precisely because, having been destroyed as a man, he has fallen far enough to see things from below that he never would have seen from above. Meanwhile, there’s nothing fair in the game of thrones, & the bastard Ramsay who tortured him, & many others, has, for the moment, won much favour. Martin also introduces some new figures, including a long-thought-to-be-dead relative of Daenerys, who could also lay claim to the throne of Westeros, seen mostly through the eyes of his most loyal lieutenant.

To say that the number of intertwined plots is now Byzantine is to achieve something of a massive understatement. And how the characters respond will continue to mean a lot about their ability to survive the many battles ongoing. Sansa, for example, last seen beginning to learn some sense from her time with Littlefinger, will be interesting to follow in the next volume. There are still some Stark POV figures, & so the importance of that family remains acute.

High fantasy of the kind Martin is pursuing in A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the major inheritances of the epic mode: he is constructing a massive tale full of smaller intersecting ones, set on a world whose politics cut deeper than any magic that might be found there (& a certain amount is, but it’s constrained by political will & power). And Martin is not just utilizing The Wars of the Roses, he is also playing off the medieval/Renaissance concept of the Wheel of Fortune, that takes you up only to bring you down: all the characters learn the truth of that. As A Dance with Dragons picks up the stories of the characters covered in A Feast for Crows towards the end, it sets the stage for a number of momentous encounters. I may be a bit too optimistic, but I’m going to hope that he has planned the next volume out & even begun work on it, & that readers will not have to wait 6 years to see it.

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