After many years of keeping his fans waiting, Mr. Martin finally released A Dance with Dragons, book five in his 7 book series. Those familiar with the series are probably aware of the significance of this; those that aren’t are probably shaking their heads incredulously and mumbling “silly fantasy nerds…” I do enjoy a good fantasy novel, but outside of LOTR and Narnia, I haven’t read much. But, if you were familiar with these stories, you would realize that you don’t need to be a fantasy nerd to realize that the many years waiting for Mr. Martin to release his books was torturous (I avoided much of this by getting on the bandwagon late).
These books are notorious for the fact that almost no character is safe. Main characters die, are defeated, and usually what you hope/expect to happen doesn’t, in the most brutal and gut wrenching way. There were multiple times where I would read an event only to stop and incredulously read it again to make sure that I actually read what I thought I read. Mr. Martin is great at subverting expectations and fantasy tropes, setting the reader up to think he is going one path (because that’s how these stories go) to only knock your legs out from underneath you.
The plot is too dense to even begin to explain. Basically, it is about politics, corruption, and the fact that valor and integrity often do not stand up to guile, deceit, and self-preservation. The world that this takes place in is on that is in the shadow of magic. It is a largely “realistic” world where magic, giants, dragons, and wraiths are relegated to children’s stories and ye old songs of gallantry. However, as the story progresses, glimpses of the fantastic re-awakening can be seen.The books are written so that each chapter is from the first person point of view of one character. This technique is used very effectively to again subvert our expectations as we see a character or event from one perspective only to see a different perspective shine a whole new light on the subject.
There is a gap in my review of the novels because I decided to re-read the first two to refresh my mind on the characters and plot in preparation for book three. Also, I needed a way of escape from my MBA studies and this world provided a great way to do this.
Lastly, I must make two very important caveats. First, these books are not for everyone. They are very violent and contain graphic sexual situations. The latter of which is my major disappointment with them. As it is a book, it is easier to skip over such sections. However, if you do not or should not want to subject yourself to such things/temptations, it is not worth reading these books. Also, HBO recently created a show based upon the books. It is well done and was critically well received. However, due to the nature of the books and HBO’s predilection toward nudity, I would suggest not to watch it. What is easily skipped by in a book is much more difficult to ignore when it becomes the focal point of multiple scenes. Though well written, no fiction is worth the danger of stumbling in sin.