<This is a review of the 5th book of the highly popular Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones series. Spoilers abound so if you don't want to know, than don't read. You have been warned>
To understand Dances with Dragons, it is important to understand the history of this book. The author, George R. Martin, began writing the next book 'Feast for Crows'. It quickly became apparent to him that in order to tell the story he wanted to tell, he was going to require an absolutely huge book (over 1500 pages) that would have been commercially unfeasible to write. Mr. Martin's solution was to split the book into two, 'Feast for Crows' and 'Dances with Dragons'. The method he chose was to focus on the characters of Sansa, Cersei, Arya, Brienne and Jaime in the first book. The second book, 'Dances with Dragons', occurs during the same exact timeframe as the first book but focusing on the characters of Daerneys, Tyrion, Jon Snow, Theon Greyjoy, Barristan Selmy, Arya and a few other viewpoints.
That being said, Books 4 & 5 are the interlude after the major events of the 2nd and 3rd book and are setting the building blocks for a truly contentious Book 6 of the series and it is important to understand that in order to enjoy the book for what it is instead of being disappointed by a perceived lack of action. Everyone is manuevering for the next round in the war. I shall cover the book by focusing on the characters Daerneys, Tyrion, Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy.
DAERNEYS & TYRION: I am sad to say that though these two characters factor prominently in this book, their viewpoints are the weakest of the primaries. I cannot say that I really approved of Daerneys decision to remain in Mereen as opposed to heading west like she was being advised. In this book, she is beset on all sides by enemies and in the end, she caves and allows her dream for Mereen to be ruined. Tyrion's story is essentially his journey across the sea to the gates of Mereen and except for him linking up with Jorah Mormont, his passage much like Sam's in the previous book was pretty meandering. That being said, both viewpoints ended well with Daerney's finally riding her Dragon into the sun-set while Barristan prepares for the Battle of Mereen and Tyrion talking himself into a mercenary Company on the opposite side. Rest assured, with Victarion and his Iron Fleet heading for Mereen, Daerneys and her Dragons and Dothraki in the wilds, and with Barristan and Tyrion on opposite sides of the Wall, there is going to be a huge epic clash outside Mereen during the next book. Hopefully once that is resolved, we can get Daerneys back to Westeros with her Dragons.
JON SNOW: Not alot of action happened in this viewpoint but it was very interesting to see Jon maturing as a leader and taking charge of the Wall. His confrontation with Janos Slynt was awesome only outdone by Stannis's reaction. Jon Snow's decision to allow the Wildlings south of the Wall was not well received by his Brothers but it was the only logical decision to make given what he knows is coming south. I think the decision is going to turn out for the best and I think it is going to be Wildlings that save the day when the Walkers come south. I do have to admit that I did not see the viewpoint ending the way that it did. It was definitely the major shocker of the Book, probably the biggest one since Tyrion went on his murder rampage at the end of Book 3.
THEON GREYJOY: This was a viewpoint that I was not expecting in this book but I would have to say that it became my favorite viewpoint of the Book. Theon was a bastard that after Book 3 appeared to be dead at the hands of Ramsay Bolton and many rejoiced given his treachery...except that he did not die and he suffered probably one of the most hideous fates of any character in the books to date. Theon is tortured and brain-washed into forgetting his own name by Ramsay and is constantly degraded throughout the entire book. It is through Theon's eyes that you get to see the preparations for war between Stannis and Ramsay and to see the rescue of 'Arya Stark'. Once again, this viewpoint has a pretty explosive ending with Asha and Theon linked up and Ramsay's note to Jon Snow. If his words are true, than the is a potential game-changer for the North and not in a good way.
There are many other interesting viewpoints in this book but I think that the most interesting thing in the entire book was the ending Epilogue, probably one of the best single chapters in the entire series. The imagery of the crushing cold gripping Kings Landing, the White Raven and the single word, 'Winter' is pretty indicative that all hell is getting to break loose and the Walkers are finally going to make their big appearance. Even better was the key assassination and the identity of the assassin and his words to his victim before finishing the job. This single sequence changes the entire conception of the previous 5 books and makes one wonder if everything that occured was part of a master plan. I won't ruin this surprise but one thing that is always interesting in this series is how the most unlikely guy is the one you got to keep your eye on.
I find myself having a hard time coming up with a score for this book. It was very well written and had alot of really good moments but really did not advance the story a great deal beyond the setting the conditions for the next book. Knowing that Book 6 is 3-5 years off, it is difficult to feel very good about having to hold on to this cliff-hanger for that length of time. On the other hand, my guess is that Book 6 will be the best book since Book 3 and of course Book 7 will be the finale so there is alot to look forward to.