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 ragtag 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.
Fans have waited a long time for this latest volume and the first question many might have is 'was it worth the wait?'... A question perhaps unfair of me to answer since I only read the entire series a few summers ago so I have only waited a couple years myself. Enough for me to be past anxious though so I will answer with both a yes and a no.
Why both? Well yes in the sense that it is great to be able to return to the world and read about the characters I love and see where the story will go. But the no is what I'll get into in my review. The book fell a little short with me and it may be something that I personally had issues with that other readers may not. As I got to book three in the saga it began to feel like things were being dragged out in the series. I don't think Martin was trying to swindle the readers or anything of the sort, I believe he just kept adding layers to a story that originally was only meant to have less character viewpoints and be wrapped up in a smaller number of volumes.
I think this is why book four focused on characters many people didn't care for -- characters that were not really big viewpoints in earlier books (with a couple exceptions) and why when we get to this book it feels like Martin is just 'circling the wagons' when we read their viewpoints. Technically of course the story continues with Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys; but once all is said and done and you look back not a lot happened compared to other characters. In a way it feels like he is still trying to get his pieces into position to move toward a conclusion. Even so, both Jon and Tyrion's viewpoints were interesting; Daenerys began to annoy me a bit as the story went on though.
Also a bit over half way through the book (as Martin explains at the beginning) this story catches up to where he ended with the last and we start getting all the other character viewpoints from book four mixed back into things. So for me the character I love to read about felt like they were stalling and then things got 'spiced' up by having characters I dislike reading about mixed in. And of course on top of this we have new viewpoints added as well. Also, as a reader I'm all for cliffhangers, but if you are going to take years and years to come out with the next volume.... Or if you spend a thousand pages building up to a point where things actually start happening only to end the story... Maybe you should either wrap up a few things so a volume actually feels satisfying or not do those things to begin with. When I finished this book I just felt very... well- unsatisfied.
Perhaps you can understand what I mean by saying both 'yes' and 'no' now. I was definitely glad to visit Martin's world again and ride along with some great characters. I just wish more happened in the book. You could sum up everything in the book in a few pages and not really miss much it was so fluffed up. Martin says he knows the end and it will be wrapped up in a few more books... I hope so. It seems like all he can do is keep layering on more viewpoints that a reader is less and less invested in than the characters they fell in love with from the start and when he gets to a point he isn't sure what to do with characters he has built up he just has them killed off. It's starting to lose it's emotional impact.
In this review I realize I have mostly talked about the negative issues I have with the story, but that isn't to say there are not positives as well. I think any fan of the series will want to keep pushing through to see where it goes from here and I'm sure readers that are more into story than characters could get more out of it as well than I did. But for me this novel was better than the last but not as good as the first few.
Fans of the series will keep reading this despite my review and new readers will have built up to this book that it will matter little as well. I posted this review more for others to chime in with their opinions and share various viewpoints about the story. A Dance with Dragons is out in hardcover now, the first four novels in 'A Song of Fire and Ice' have been recovered and are out in paperback for those that want to try the series out.