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What is the general consensus these days about the latter two books vs. the first three?

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The first three move along at a brisk pace, which is undeniable. But yeesh .... I was caught off guard by Feast, like many others, and found it almost stubbornly slow and full of irrelevant side-plots. Dance has a similar pace but we had Jon, Dany & Tyrion so at least it felt like we were progressing the story along. But still, I felt kind of underwhelmed. I had ordered steak and I got a Caesar salad. 

Then I spent some years lurking on the forums and watching the show. Finally, on my re-read, Feast and Dance seemed to leap into glorious  technicolour, and now I dip into them constantly. Because it isn't just pace and plot I'm reading for any more, it's symbolism and foreshadowing puzzles.

The problem, I think, is that George clearly raises the level of symbolism and foreshadowing in the last two books, but doesn't outright state that he is doing so. It would be anathema to him, I feel, to have to actually spell out the way he intends the books to be read. Discovering the layers is part of the joy. And that's the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of Feast and Dance. The denseness of the language, the detail in the imagery - they are at odds with the need to have a 'brisk plot' - but since he was filling in for the five-year gap anyway, this was perhaps the best way to go. (And he had become a big enough 'name' writer by Feast that he could just go with his instincts and to hell with the reviews.)

Bran and Arya (just for example) can't accomplish too much in AFFC or ADWD, otherwise George would ruin the (presumably) well-planned arcs he has laid out for them in TWOW and ADOS. So yes, there is an element of wheel-spinning. But look at how fleshed out Cersei's character becomes as a result. And we get Reek and Quentyn, the Ironborn, the Dornish -  to the benefit of world building. Quite a lot of world-building - Brienne's plot is a great advert for the East Westeros Tourist Board (apart from all the stabbing, hacking and strangling, etc.)

World-building isn't enough, though. And indeed that's not all there is. While certain characters plots might have entered the 'slow lane', George lays in more than enough foreshadowing of events in future books for us to puzzle over long into this decade. I would urge anybody here who struggles with Feast to go back to the beginning of the series and read with fresh eyes, and treat GRRM not just as a storyteller but as a master puzzler.

He puts a lot of work into these books, and it feels as though the plot elements are sometimes the least of it. So where does he invest his time? Well, I can only speak from personal experience but I enjoyed my re-read so much more when I became just that little bit more suspicious of seemingly innocuous details. Keep in mind this quote from his podcast:


I plant the seed but I try to do a little literary ‘sleight of hand’. And while I'm planting the seed, my other hand is up there waving -  and is distracting you with some flashy bit of wordplay, or something that's going on in the foreground, while the seed is being planted in the background. So, hopefully the seed is there. The foreshadowing is there. But maybe you won't notice it … because it's surrounded by so many other things.

Where are these seeds? Focus on the language, the cryptic poetry, the weird eerie moments that can only be foreshadowing. Peek into the cracks, and it's almost like peeling apart the pages to discover a new book.

Edited by Sandy Clegg
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On 8/14/2023 at 2:02 PM, Alester Florent said:

The problem with AFfC and ADwD, I think, is that it feels like very little really happens in them. Between the end of ASoS and about three-quarters of the way into ADwD, the plot seems to be treading water for the most part while the characters catch up. Some of the characters get some good development but it's mostly internal, with not very much interesting happening to or around them in most cases, and it feels like several of them have barely moved since the end of ASoS.

These books also introduce two new plots, in Dorne and the Iron Islands, which whatever you think of them in and of themselves, serve to slow things down by spreading the plot more thinly among characters and settings, adding to the feel of stodginess.

Things pick up again quite a lot in the last stages of ADwD, with Dany's escape from Meereen, Aegon's invasion, Barristan's coup, Jaime's meeting with Brienne, Cersei's walk of shame, the assassination attempt on Jon, Stannis's advance on Winterfell, and Varys's strike on Kevan and Pycelle. But all of the rest of AFfC and ADwD feels to an extent like it's been buildup to those moments, which has taken an inordinately long time compared to the relatively frenetic pace of the first three books, which never felt rushed but was able to deliver adequate suspense and exciting plot moments at a more frequent pace.

I think on re-reads the two books fare better because by now you know nothing's going to happen so you're just reading them largely analytically rather than waiting for the plot to start moving again, and they fare better there because there's a lot in them to unpack. But on a first read that slowness is extremely frustrating, and I don't think that should be discounted in the overall analysis, because these books are after all narrative instruments and if the narrative grinds to a halt that's a problem even if we later find other things to appreciate.

I feel like a lot of fans were spoiled by Storm

Because, in fact, a lot of stuff happens in Feast and Dance...it just doesn't happen at the breakneck speed like it did in Storm.

People also tend to forget that Storm is the climax of events that were introduced, complexified and broadened in Game and ClashFeast works as both as epilogue for the first part of the story and the intro to the second part of the story.

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