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Having just finished my re-read of A Dance with Dragons, I think it might be my favourite book in the series now


WhatAnArtist!
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Warning, long post

 

The first time I read it, back in 2012, I was bored by how long things took to get anywhere, and then how it ended before much of it even paid off, but going back into the book knowing that it's essentially filled with a ton of cliffhangers with no proper conclusions for a lot of the storylines, I can appreciate the other aspects of the book, the non-plot ones. Just like in Feast, the book focuses more on worldbuilding and character development, which is something I appreciate a lot more now than I did a decade ago. I liked Jon and Dany's struggles to rule a divided and angry people in very difficult places, having to maintain their composure despite feeling like they don't actually have any idea what the right thing to do is. It's like the opposite of Cersie's arc in Feast, where she has total confidence in herself, but constantly makes terrible decisions. Jon's final chapter is definitely one of the best chapters in the entire series, with events constantly escalating until they explode in violence and suddenly cut off. Knowing he'll almost certainly be resurrected takes away a lot of the power of this chapter, but it's still a thrilling read.

Jon's storyline was definitely my favourite of the three main characters, though I appreciated Tyrion's storyline a lot more on this re-read. His chapters with Illyrio, Griff and co. are full of very interesting dialogue that's directly relevant to the events in Westeros, and even when he's around less interesting characters (e.g. Penny, Jorah) there's still a ton of valuable worldbuilding in a part of the world that was practically ignored by Martin until this point. The descriptions of the locales in western Essos were so vivid, I can still picture the scenes so clearly, the mists and ruins of the Sorrows, the colourful lamp-lit streets of Selhorys at dusk, the old and decaying grandeur of Volantis. Martin's descriptive prose really shines in this chapters, even if they're sometimes very slow-paced and meandering. Tyrion's character-arc is also probably the best that Martin has ever written. Seeing Tyrion very gradually transform from a depressed, suicidal, hateful man that just wants to end it all into some semblance of his old self outside the walls of Meereen is very satisfying to read.

Dany's story suffers from the fact that Slaver's Bay is an abysmally awful setting, but it's not as bad as in Storm. The place feels a little less cartoonish because of more nuanced characters like Skahaz and the Green Grace. But I actually enjoyed the Meereen storyline more after Dany left, and Barristan was left to pick up the pieces. A lot of people complain that his character is bland and his storyline is unnecessary, but I really liked seeing him transform from a simple old knight to a "kingbreaker" and a Queen's Hand. The chapter where he arrests Reznak is incredibly badass and cool. I can understand why the actor that played Barristan was devastated when his character was killed off before this.

Quentyn sucks. I can't really come up with any praise for his chapters, they're boring and so is he. I think that was maybe Martin's point, but it still doesn't make for enjoyable reading.

Victarian is.... Victarian. Not much to say about him. He's a big, dumb, violent brute. Sometimes pretty entertaining in his stupidity, but he embodies pretty much every bad trait of the ironborn, which is sometimes a chore to read about. The fact that he keeps thinking he can outsmart Euron is genuinely hilarious though.

Arya is never a character I've liked, and her chapters here are no different. Braavos is an interesting city but I don't like that we have to see it through Arya's perspective. I despise her.

On the topic of Starks, I've never really cared for Bran, but his story here is a hell of a lot more interesting than in any other book. All three of his chapters have this subtly creepy and eerie feel about them, like he's unknowingly getting closer and closer to some truly dark and messed up things, but you don't quite know what it is. Very well written.

It was really nice seeing Davos again, Westeros's most down-to-earth and decent PoV character. His scene with the Lord of the Sisters, and both of his scenes with Manderly were fantastic. Davos's sense of honour and loyalty to Stannis keeps making me love him more with each passing chapter.

Melisandre's chapter was interesting but does feel a bit out-of-place since there's only one of them. I'm assuming there'll be more in Winds, which I look forward to. She's a fascinating and mysterious character, especially since Martin has said she's the most misunderstood character in the series. 

Theon's storyline is unarguably one of the greatest Martin has ever written in the series, and I don't think many people would disagree with that. There really isn't anything else to add to it, everyone knows why it's so great.

Asha is meh as a character. Her PoV is only worthwhile because she's our eyes on King Stannis's northern campaign. I do kind of ship her and Ser Justin though. 

Jaime's single chapter is probably my favourite chapter in the book. It's a direct continuation of my favourite storyline in the whole series - Jaime's riverlands campaign in Feast - I loved seeing him continue to act like an honourable knight, and his meeting with Lord Tytos 'Chad' Blackwood is just wonderful - like a direct contrast and polar opposite to his failed meeting with the Blackfish. Jaime's complete lack of respect for Bracken was fun too. The ending made me really sad though - seeing Jaime so happy to see Brienne, and not knowing that she's leading him into a trap. Pretty heartbreaking.

Just like the above-mentioned Jaime chapter, Cersei's two chapters should have been included in Feast, since it's the perfect ending to her story-arc, from both a structural and thematic perspective. The walk of shame chapter was a mini-masterpiece of character writing.

Areo has a chapter, although it'd be more accurate to say there's a chapter, and Areo happens to be standing in the corner while it happens. I like Doran, and am undecided on Arianne (I'm glad she finally has some respect for Doran though), but my intense hatred of the Sand Snakes brings this chapter down in my eyes. I can't believe Doran is trusting these jokes with anything.

.....oh yeah, and there's Connington. I forgot about him. That dour, stern, and utterly humourless bore. His storyline itself is one of the most interesting and potentially exciting ones in the series, it's just a shame that the guy we're seeing it through is Jon Connington. Gods, what a bore. Arianne will be drier than a Dornish desert if she has to marry him.

Overall, I really love A Dance with Dragons after this re-read. It's that extremely rare case of a fantasy book being both wide and deep as an ocean. I recognise the criticisms - too many cliffhangers, barely any conclusions, too meandering and self-indulgent - but I love it because of just how meandering and self-indulgent it is. Just like Feast, this is a deep-dive into both the world of Westeros and Essos, as well as its characters and their psychological journeys. Martin wanted to write something deeper, darker, and more thought-provoking than the original trilogy, and I think he succeeded brilliantly. This book is just so bloody massive and deep and vast, there's so much to take from it.

Edited by WhatAnArtist!
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I totally agree, and had a very similar experience where I read the books for the first time right around when Dance came out (I actually think I got into them because of a Skyrim mod? lol) and then bopped around reading Dunk & Egg and being in the community before finally actually rereading the series a year or two ago and -- wow, there was so much I'd totally missed in Dance, both in terms of depth and also like ... theme? Point? It really feels like George is managing to tell not only a political story but a story about politics, and so much of that comes out in Dance -- especially in the Slaver's Bay and Wall plots, where we see Jon, Dany, and (the man the myth) Barristan the Bold really struggling to deal with the realities of political leadership.

 

I also agree that Barristan's transformation is just incredible. It reminds me, in some ways, of Ned -- a more traditional fantasy character / leader struggling and slowly adapting to the realities of politics and making some pretty colossal mistakes along the way. Here's hoping Ol' Arstan has a better fate that Eddard.

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Thank you very much for you thoughtful posting. Unfortunately, I'm afraid my answer will not be much shorter, but much less thoughtful. ;)

8 hours ago, WhatAnArtist! said:

[...] but I love it because of just how meandering and self-indulgent it is. Just like Feast, this is a deep-dive into both the world of Westeros and Essos, as well as its characters and their psychological journeys.

Actually, AFfC and ADwD became my favourite books in the series, too. And for the same reasons. I really liked the travelogues in both books, the world building and the atmosphere Martin managed to capture in them:

In AFfC we not only get to see the horrors of war in the Riverlands, but also imho it was the first time Martin succeeded in showing just how big the Riverlands alone are (yes, Arya was walking the Riverlands too, and also we have Brienne's and Jaime's journey to King's Landing, but in both cases the faster pacing made the distances appear smaller somehow, imho). I also like how Martin captured the melancholy in Jaime's POVs in both books, which is also present in Brienne's POVs in AFfC, of course, but for me always tinted with a frustrated stubbornness to not yield to the circumstances and the world as such (no, I don't find Brienne a boring POV at all). And I must confess, I also have a soft spot for their travelling companions - sure, I liked Podrick and Septon Meribald, but Martin also managed to picture the slow changes in Ser Hyle quite well, without wording them too much, and even Ser Ilyn became more understandable.

On the other hand seeing Essos though Tyrion's (and also Quentyn's) eyes is awe-inspiring. I really liked how Marin captured the difference in viewpoint between a native (Daenerys) wandering Essos compared to someone from "backwater"-Westeros. The world-building was also good in Dany's chapters, but the tone is different, I don't know if he really was going for it, but Martin succeeded in making Tyrion's POV (and Quentyn's miserable lamenting) on his journey sound very much alien and amazed, while even in Meereen Dany is more like a Roman would be in old Babylon: "strange people, strange customs, they are all nuts, but big city, old culture, just like home, adapt".

And yes, Jaime's POV in Dance is the best chapter in the whole book, and pretty heartbreaking, but I don't think his story is at an end. Yes, I'm quite sure he will die in the end, but I think he will do so appeasing the ghosts that haunt him.

9 hours ago, WhatAnArtist! said:

Quentyn sucks. I can't really come up with any praise for his chapters, they're boring and so is he. I think that was maybe Martin's point, but it still doesn't make for enjoyable reading.

I think (and have stated it here on multiple occasion^^) he really is the frog prince from the fairy tale, he is even treated as such: the princess he dares to approach with impertinent demands throws him at the wall. Because that's how the story goes originally, the frog is not kissed into a prince, it takes the princess to show him boundaries and put an end to his demands for the spell to be broken. But instead of turning into a prince, Quentyn stays a frog. :)

10 hours ago, WhatAnArtist! said:

I liked Jon and Dany's struggles to rule a divided and angry people in very difficult places, having to maintain their composure despite feeling like they don't actually have any idea what the right thing to do is. It's like the opposite of Cersie's arc in Feast, where she has total confidence in herself, but constantly makes terrible decisions.

Yes, I want to add that it is really well made how they also contrast each other: Dany is much too lenient toward people who resent her and are clearly working against her, while being surrounded by allies whom she essentially forbids to help her, just to keep a rotten peace. While Jon has send his friend away, and is too harsh toward people who are not primary his enemies and could be swayed to his side, if he would work for it.

And - again a contrast against the two - the third dragon (true or false doesn't matter in this moment) we see is "groomed to rule", but never had to even think about which of two bad options he would choose, and how this would feel (we see in Jon's and Dany's POV: everything comes with a price) - but looses his temper over a game of chess.

10 hours ago, WhatAnArtist! said:

[,,,] and Barristan was left to pick up the pieces. A lot of people complain that his character is bland and his storyline is unnecessary, but I really liked seeing him transform from a simple old knight to a "kingbreaker" and a Queen's Hand. The chapter where he arrests Reznak is incredibly badass and cool. I can understand why the actor that played Barristan was devastated when his character was killed off before this.

41 minutes ago, Rhan said:

I also agree that Barristan's transformation is just incredible. It reminds me, in some ways, of Ned -- a more traditional fantasy character / leader struggling and slowly adapting to the realities of politics and making some pretty colossal mistakes along the way. Here's hoping Ol' Arstan has a better fate that Eddard.

I always liked Barristan, and, too, don't find him boring or bland. And his storyline is indeed necessary: Imho he and the other great knight (Jaime, Brienne, Loras, maybe Sandor) do have a stroyline on their own (together): the storyline about how stories about knight and ladies are born, how a real and - sometimes very much - flawed person is turned into a song. So, I hope Arstan will stay with us much longer, maybe he will even be there in the end, finishing Jaime's page in the White Book (it surely would fit into the bitter-sweet ending). At least I have the feeling they have to meet again.

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28 minutes ago, Morte said:

So, I hope Arstan will stay with us much longer, maybe he will even be there in the end, finishing Jaime's page in the White Book

You know, I'd never thought about this before. Maybe it's the show idea poisoning or the fact that he's so clearly one of the "old guard" as it were of ASOIAF but I always sort of assumed Barristan was going to eat it before the end. I hope you're right, if only to really round out Jaime's story.

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such a great post .. Dance+ Feast were my favorite books upon reading and I was shocked when I realized they aren't more popular than the first three books! I imagine most people were looking for action which is the only thing these books lack, though they would have been way better received if the battle of Mereen was included in the Dance... Morte's post about the contrast between Jon and Dany and ruling in general was a great analysis..so I'll just jump into my own views on different chapters :) 

  • Theon's story as horrifying as it was at first, was the highlight of the book for me. Bran's three chapters were wonderful , too. Jon's story was one of my favorite parts of the book and Asha -whose chapters weren't much enjoyable for me before - became one of my favorites after she went to Stannis's campaign .
  • the feast POVs that went on to be included in Dance had some of their best chapters...
  • Tyrion who was one of my favorite characters changed drastically in the Dance to the point  I don't like him to survive the books, yet, ironically, I enjoyed reading Tyrion chapters and his character development in the Dance far more than ever!
  • Barristan chapters were surprisingly good as well , and although I liked Dany's inner conflicts in this book , I wished she had shared some of her chapters in Slaver Bay with Barristan.
  • Victarion was still the guy whose chapters I skipped at first!!
  • meanwhile, Aero Hottah feels like a lost opportunity in the book (being the only former slave and being around Doran who is one of the most intriguing characters in my view) 
  • as for the latest additions , Quentyn and JonCon, I don't get why you feel they are boring ( got to do with personal taste I suppose..) .. they are amazing characters in their own way:
  • Quentyn feels somehow unique among all the asoiaf characters.. most of them have the element of arrogance , self assurance, too much of confidence and they all cling to their heritage to get confidence but you never read "I am son of Sunspear so I am the best" in Q's chapters. maybe if he had survived he would have been more likable . Quentyn is the only one who knows he is awkward , he knows what he lacks and he feels from the beginning that "though this is adventure , this is all fucked up and it sucks" but being the dutiful , decent lad he is , he goes for it and tries his best.. his chapter with the Windblown after his first battle and his last chapter are truly worthy to read ... it was such a shame , too, I think Quentyn would have made a good partner for Dany if they had got to know each other:)) . till now Dany's been only attracted to dangerous guys who have a VERY different view on the world . among all the guys trying to get Dany , Quentyn is the only one who like Dany wants somewhat of a simpler life inspite of being a prince and he also shares Dany's confidence issues . moreover, he has siblings' problems ( admittedly in a very different way from Dany) . see? they could totally bond over these!
  • JonCon- as dry a character as he might be which feels like a consequence of exile-  is sympathetic, calculating , smart and interesting.. at least to me. ( reminds me of bloodraven and I hope he doesn't turn into Tywin).  a guy who thinks has failed in every level of his life having a death ticking clock on his head  tries to give the son of his long lost forbidden love and his own foster son what he thinks was wrongfully taken away...
Edited by EggBlue
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