NOTE: This post may contain a few Song of Ice and Fire/Dance with Dragons spoilers, or at least some ideas about where things might go. I try to avoid that, but want to give fair warning just in case.
Last night, I read the last page of “A Dance With Dragons” and closed my Kindle.
I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that.
Those who have been with me that long know I’ve been reading this series since spring. I started in April with A Game of Thrones, and it was early September before I finished devouring Dragons, the last in the five-book Song of Ice and Fire series.
Um … uh … now what?
This epic fantasy series is made up of some seriously long books. I think the readers of the series pretty much fall into two categories. There are the long-timers, who have been exploring Westeros since 1996 when A Game of Thrones come out. And then there are the newcomers like me, who knew nothing about Starks and Lannisters and Targaryans until HBO put them on our TV screens last spring.
The long-timers have traveled an interesting and sometimes frustrating road. They only had to wait two years between A Game of Thrones and the second book, A Clash of Kings, and then another two years before A Storm of Swords, the third in the series.
After Swords, fans waited for 5 years before A Feast for Crows came out in 2005. At the time, they expected A Dance With Dragons to be finished in 2006. As it turns out, it didn’t come out until July 2011.
Those are some long-ass waits for a series that leaves several of your favorite as well as your most-hated characters on death’s door or in some seriously screwed-up predicaments at the end of every book.
And now, I join the ranks of the waiters. A Dance with Dragons is no different in terms of setting us up for a waiting game. There’s one main character who is supposedly dead, but you didn’t “see” it happen so you can’t be sure. After all, Martin leaves no room for doubt when he wants us to know for sure that someone’s been offed – he proves it with a head on a spike or some such detail. There’s also a character – a very well-loved character for me – who was left in a state of getting a bloody, brutal, unsuspected ass-whoopin’ that SHOULD be fatal, but we know how that goes in Westeros.
Add to that the gazillion other plots and subplots and can-it-be-trues, and I’m hanging by a thread.
Therein lies the rub. Threads fray a lot in five years. If Martin stays on his current track of going that long between churning out books in the series, I’ll be well into my mid-40’s before I find out what happens to the characters I’ve cheered as well as those I’ve wanted to see get bit in the balls by a direwolf or a dragon.
So, a few fun thoughts as I embark on the looong wait.
1. General impressions of each book so far:
A Game of Thrones (book and TV series): Sucked me in, ripped my heart out to the point where I considered not continuing to watch/read, but in the end kept me going.
A Clash of Kings: I enjoyed it while I was reading it. But now that I’m so far in, it doesn’t stand out as much as some of the others.
A Storm of Swords: Probably the most enthralling and gut-wrenching book in the series.
A Feast for Crows: The only one for me that was sort of hard to get through. I think this was because so much of it was told through the point of view of characters I didn’t like as much, with the exception of Sam. Cersei has a lot of the chapters in this book, and while they are interesting I just really hate her ass.
A Dance with Dragons: Faster-paced than 4 and very good, but not quite up to the level of the 1st or 3rd book. Left me hanging more than it resolved outstanding questions, but I think that’s probably what it was supposed to do.
2. My current favorite characters who haven’t yet bit the dust:
Jon Snow. From the first book, you expect Jon to be a major player and a “good guy.” He’s the one with all the odds stacked against him – the bastard son of the Stark family who goes off to spend his life on the Wall – which means hanging out with cons and criminals and defending the realm against undead freakezoids while the kings and queens and wannabes beat the crap out of each other and their armies. And he IS a good guy, the closest thing Westeros has to honor. But he isn’t perfect. He makes complex and selfish decisions, he screws up, he gets pissed. He’s humanly good.
Jaime Lannister. There, I said it. I don’t like Jaime because he’s good. He’s not. I like him because he’s extremely complicated and hard to figure out. He’s cold and hard and mean but he’s got these moments of honor and caring and … thoughtfulness. What I like about him the most is that if you’d told me in the first book that I’d ever want anything to happen to him other than a violent and icky death, I would never have believed you. Martin changed that with what he’s done with Jaime.
As for female characters, I’m torn between Brienne, Arya, and Danaerys. What Arya is becoming exactly remains to be seen, and she could turn out good or evil. Dany is a wonderful mix of good intentions and idealism and seriously screwing shit up. Her youth plays into that a lot.
3. Thoughts on Martin’s writing style
Now that I’m done reading, I’m more convinced than ever that it is okay as a writer to let your characters lead you sometimes rather than the other way around.
I say that because it is hard to read these five books back-to-back and think that they ended up where Martin originally intended them to go. Some major players early on fade away, and others who seem minor take the reigns. It is hard to explain why, but this just seems more evolving than intentional sometimes. It is like the characters themselves grew and evolved and became more – or in some cases less – than Martin intended them to be when he first created them.
But it works. It isn’t disjointed or even totally unexpected. It flows the way real life might.
Also, there are a few major questions that have been hanging out there since very early on. We are no closer to getting answers at the end of Dragons than we were in the first two books. Maybe that’s intentional on Martin’s part. But the way things shift and change, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t because HE keeps changing his mind about what those answers will be.
4. A Laugh at Myself
When I finished book one, I wrote this post predicting what would happen next:
One of the wildlings said “you know nothing, Jon Snow.” That has stuck with him ever since.
That post proves that neither did I. Okay, I was on to a few things, but even those really didn’t turn out the way I expected.
5. Links to Westeros While We Wait
So now, I wait for the next book. The second episode of the HBO series, which should pretty much mirror A Clash of Kings, will be out sometime late next spring. I’ll probably reread the first and second book before then, just to have it all fresh in my head.
If you haven’t watched the series or read the book yet, check out HBO’s site:
Here’s more about author George R. R. Martin. This is also the place to watch and wait as updates come in on how close the next book is to completion: George R. R. Martin’s Official Web Site.
Finally, now that I’m done and won’t risk spoiling anything for myself, I can delve into the Ring of Ice and Fire, where many fans discuss and analyze both the series and the show. I’ve poked around this site before, but didn’t want to read too much since so many of those in the forums were so much farther along than me.
Yep. I think this means I’m officially a Westeros geek, doesn’t it?