This isn’t actually going to be a real book review, more of a rant. A really long rant that I want you, dear readers, to add your own words to, so bear with me.
(Also, if you want to skip my lunatic ranting and read a few of my hypotheses, they’re at the VERY end. I made it easy for you, because I am a benevolent creator.)
I read the first three books in the Song of Ice and Fire series when I was in college. I believe I was twenty years old, and without betraying just how decrepit I am, let’s just say that was over ten years ago. A Feast for Crows came out in 2005. It had been a couple of years since I read the first three, and since those years were years full of cheap beer and mind-melting thesis work, I decided to blast away my mental cobwebs by rereading them in preparation for Feast. In other words: I was REALLY FUCKING EXCITED to read Feast, and I didn’t want any confusion from vaguely remembered plot points to hinder my enjoyment of it. When I finally got to it, I cracked the rather heavy tome open and prepared to have my mind blown. Blown it was not. I plodded and plodded and plodded through endless chapters of fucking Cersei Lannister and zero chapters of Tyrion or DRAGONS or everyone’s favorite sexy bastard and his direwolf companion. When I finally finished that meandering mess I was so angry and disappointed that I vowed never to read another book from A Song of Ice and Fire again.
Flash forward to me in my fuzzy Christmas pajamas this past December, looking through an assortment of my mother’s epic fantasy novels, trying to decide what to read. I had finally succumbed to the HBO series A Game of Thrones earlier in the year, so my love of the story had burst into joyous, fantastical flames once again. People had told me that A Dance with Dragons was better than Feast, that important things happen, that it was worth reading. So I decided to try it even though it had been close to a decade since reading the first four.
(As an aside, my mother was not one of these advocates. She admitted to skipping hundreds of pages to get through it, which I think tells you something.)
Now, granted, the fact that nine-ish years had passed since I threw A Feast for Crows across the room in a huff meant that I waded into A Dance with Dragons with a mix of musty memories of the books and fresh memories of the sometimes radically different T.V. show, which makes for a somewhat disorienting reading experience, but fucked if I was going to spend three months rereading the entire series again. And, yes, Dance was better than A Feast for Crows, but in my honest opinion? This book is still a monstrous pile of shit.
(Also, for all my adult relatives who read this, I’m just going to warn you that I’m about to use a lot of coarse langauge.)
First and foremost: DOES GEORGE R.R. MARTIN EVEN HAVE AN EDITOR? Who the fuck in their right mind would allow him to publish this bullshit? Or, even worse, did he write even MORE and then have it cut down? I mean, this book is 1,050 pages long. That is a lot of pages. Of those pages, I would say that maybe 500 were worthwhile, which is STILL a lot of pages. FIVE HUNDRED out of over ONE THOUSAND. I am no math genius, but according to my calculations that means this book is approximately 50% useless drivel, and therefore too long by 50%. At one point I read a half page long paragraph that was simply a listing of all the heraldry hanging in a hall and asked myself if he was fucking kidding me with that shit. Is he Charles Dickens getting paid by the word? I DON’T CARE ABOUT WHAT IS ON THE SHIELD OF SOME JANKY ASS HOUSE THAT I HAD NEVER EVEN HEARD OF BEFORE. If I were his editor, and thank goddess I’m not, I would have put a big red X through half of the manuscript, maybe with a HAHAHAHA YOU ARE A FUCKING JOKESTER, RIGHT?
(At times, reading A Dance with Dragons felt a bit like this scene from the documentary entitled Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
I will say that the last 200 pages were really good and a bit more on par with A Song of Ice and Fire at its best. I know that this made many readers look upon the book with a more forgiving heart, but my heart is a black and frozen pit of despair, and those two hundred pages of BOMB made me even angrier. Why, if he is still capable of writing a page-turning epic fantasy, does he insist on being so bloviatingly boring? Is he some new brand of wordsmith sadist? Yes, I know that a lot of the 800 page word dump that came before the re-appearance of the dragons (FUCKING FINALLY) was a set-up for all the shit that goes down towards the end. However, I don’t think that all that set-up really NEEDED eight hundred pages to unfold. I don’t NEED the story from the perspective of every turd ever to walk the demon road or to eat one of the bajillion feasts painstakingly described throughout the book.
(Seriously, you could probably publish a novella with all the food descriptions. I want more DRAGONS and less FEASTING. Thnx.)
I would like to throw in there that I don’t have a problem with long books that aren’t enormously plot driven if they are good books. Or even if they ARE plot driven and not a hell of a lot happens, I’m OK with that if I like the writing enough. For example, Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller books don’t exactly move along at a steady clip, but I love his writing so much that I enjoy the hundreds upon hundreds of pages I spend in that world. I just don’t like Martin’s writing enough to hang out there with him for a thousand pages if most of those pages do very little to propel the story forward.
I now arrive at my final gripe. The book ends pretty abruptly right as it gets good again. There is no resolution, no denouement. It just ends with a bajillion threads that were just getting juicy dangling in space, dripping their juice, waiting to be picked up again. I know this is a series and that cliffhangers are the name of the series game sometimes, but it takes him approximately 27 years to write each book, so that’s a pretty fucked up thing to do to your readers. I was discussing the books with my mother and she thinks that he’s an “unethical” writer because he mocks his readers by (knowingly) writing hundreds of pages of crap and then throwing in a tantalizing ending to keep them coming back. I thought that was an interesting perspective.
OK. So. Honestly? I think this series has turned into a bit of a disaster. I very much doubt that even he knows where it’s going (hasn’t he said something along those lines?), and it shows. The past two books have been roughly two thousand pages of a once-taut storyline pulled in way too many directions. It’s watered-down wine. It is a staggering behemoth that can’t pull its legs under itself again to pick up momentum. At this point I think it’s safe to say that this series has failed (my expectations, anyways), and probably won’t ever actually be good again. However, when the next book comes out in 2107, I will read it from my fiery place in hell. Because much as I resent Martin for smashing something that was REALLY, REALLY fun into pulp, I still want to know how it all ends.
So, readers, I want you to tell me: have you read this series? How has your experience differed from or paralleled mine? Once you’ve invested in a series, at what point (if ever) do you call it quits?
Also, for anyone who cares, here are my hypotheses:
a) Daenerys takes over the Jhoqo’s khalasar. What the hell are hundreds of horseman in the face of Drogon? BBQ, that’s what. She’s gonna roll up in Mereen with her khalasar, set all those Yunkish bamas ablaze, collect the heads of all the Harpies, and roll on out of there AT LAST because if she spends one more second holding court in that fucking burnt out pyramid I am going to murder someone.
b) Jon snow is obviously not dead.
c) Why do people think he’s dead? Don’t they know Martin well enough to know that no one’s dead til they’re fucking DEAD? Until his head’s on a spike, he’s totally okay.
d) Cersei’s white knight is OBVIOUSLY a zombie Mountain created by Maester von Frankenstein. OBVIOUSLY.