*MAJOR SPOILERS! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!*
After six years of waiting, there was no doubt I was going to like this latest entry in ‘A Song of Ice and Fire. I liked it, but not nearly as much as the first three novels. There seemed to be a whole lot of set up and sitting around but that was ok because the book was a tome of over 900 pages. Talk about bang for your buck, this one was definitely worth paying less than 25 dollars for. (At Target) The book made me laugh, cringe, almost cry (don’t judge me!), yawn and at one point set it down to ask myself why the hell did George Martin do that? Damn him!
The book itself is almost a stark reminder (see what I did there?) of how unforgiving and bleak the series really is. Most of the things that occur happen the exact opposite than what you would have expected or wanted to happen. For me that is what sets Martin apart from so many other authors. He’s not afraid to stray from the norm and he does things on his own accord because it works for him. It’s his vision and his story even though us fans made him a millionaire and I’m good with that. I’m more than positive after this one that we’ll have a plethora of readers saying they’re done and that the series is getting stale, but aside from the length of the book I don’t see what separates it from the rest of them in regards to content. The only reason that it might not flow adequately for some fans is because it was written to be happening concurrently with the events of a Feast for Crows, and then towards the end it all flows together as we start seeing those characters from AFFC again, such as Jaime and Cersei.
After the last couple books it would seem that the War of the Five Kings may be starting to die down. The Starks have been all but vanquished and Winterfell sacked by the traitorous Northern Bannermen of the Starks, the Boltons. The fighting near Riverrun is coming to a close now that Jaime has Edmure Tully as a hostage and Storm’s End is effectively under siege by forces loyal to King Tommen
Lannister Baratheon. Even with the death of Lord Tywin and the imprisonment of Cersei, the Lannisters are sitting pretty with their scumbag allies the Freys who are now the power in the Riverlands and the Boltons who are now rulers in the North. One of the kings, namely Stannis Baratheon has other plans though. Still believing his claim holds precedent over Tommen (which it does), Stannis intends to not only protect the Wall with Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch but to unite the North under his banner and the Red God R’hollor.
Tyrion arrives in Pentos under the protection of Illyrio, who sends the dwarf with a company of sell-swords to serve Daenerys Targaryen in Mereen. Tyrion though not mourning his father’s murder is clearly haunted by it as he has constant nightmares and echoes his father’s last words to anyone who will hear it – “Where do whores go?” Realistically, Tyrion is the heir to Casterly Rock since Jaime is in the Kingsguard and Cersei is a woman, so he plans to claim it with Daenerys help in return for all his knowledge of her Westerosi enemies.
It was quite interesting to see Tyrion in a world where being in a Lannister means absolutely nothing. And it also means that there is a price on his head thanks to Cersei, and many men are anxious to cash in on it to win a lordship in Westeros. Tyrion has to use his wits to the max, which we know are sharp as a sword, in order to survive the harsh Free Cities. In a world where he is just another dwarf, the Imp of Lannister needs to learn to keep his mouth shut with no one protecting him anymore. I can’t even remember how many times the little man got punched in the face throughout the book but it was plenty. Aside from Illyrio and the twice exiled knight Jorah Mormont, Tyrion meets two characters amongst the sell-sword group called the Golden Company that are sure to raise some eyebrows to the readers.
I was actually kind of blown away by the one. The first is Jon Connington, exiled Lord of Griffin’s Roost and former Hand of the King during the rule of Aerys Targaryen. The second is Aegon son of Rhaegar Targaryen, who turns out not to have had his head dashed upon the walls of the Red Keep due to the actions of Lord Varys. This changes the game entirely in my eyes. Now another Targaryen is on the move, invading the Stormlands to take Storm’s End and already taking all of the castles on Cape Wrath with the hope that Daenarys will join up with him when she is ready to bring her dragons to Westeros. So now the Lannisters have the Tyrells in King’s Landing to deal with, one Targaryen taking over the Stormlands and another Targaryen possibly on the way…. with dragons. This isn’t even to mention Dorne who will no doubt rally under a Targaryen who makes a claim to the throne.
Daenerys has what seems to be the most time in the book, but it seems like a reality show about which suitor is going to bag her. And if it wasn’t Daenerys, it was about another POV character also in Mereen or on the way to Mereen to seek out Daenerys. This book by far had the most POVs I’ve seen in the Ice and Fire books, each random one having a couple words to describe their character at the start of a chapter. Barristan Selmy had his own POV chapters in the book, called ‘The Discarded Knight’, ‘The Kingbreaker’ and ‘The Queen’s Hand’. Selmy is definitely one of the more liked characters. The guy has a real knack for blaming himself for what could have been in certain situations. He is extremely loyal to the monarchs that he serves and takes his duty very seriously, to the point where he beats himself up over the past with Aerys and Robert dying while he served on the Kingsguard.
Another character in Mereen is Quentyn Martell, the son of Prince Doran Martell who rules in Dorne. Quentyn reveals that the is carrying a marriage contract from the end of Robert’s rebellion agreeing to a marriage between Arianna Martell and Viserys Targaryen. Prince Doran hopes that since Viserys died with a case of severe Goldilocks that the contract can then translate to Quentyn and Daenerys instead.
I liked Quentyn enough as a character, he was honorable and brave in regards to wishes of his family. In the end when he wasn’t going to be marrying Daenerys I really didn’t expect what happened to him. In an attempt to impress Daenerys, Quentyn and his men went to take one of her dragons so the Prince could ride it and make use of it for both their causes. I pictured Quentyn actually accomplishing this until Rhaegal charbroiled his ass. I thought the same thing that Quentyn said as he was aflame – “Oh…” Brutal but pure Martin. Where this leaves Dorne in the mix once Prince Doran finds out, we’ll have to wait and see.
Victarion Greyjoy is also in on the whole Mereen scene, or at least he will be once his ‘Iron Fleet’ reaches the Free City. The start of his voyage does not start off so good. There are storms aplenty and monkeys running loose all over his ship until they come upon a Red Priest. (Like Melisandre.) Victarion of course is going to take Daenerys for himself instead of serving Euron faithfully. You get to see during Victarion’s chapters what a resentful and harsh man he is. Better than that you get to see even more of how harsh the Greyjoys and the Iron Men are in terms of conquest and sailing.
Daenerys herself didn’t really impress me in this book. I understand why she decided to stay in Mereen to help her followers and try to rule the city right, but the whole thing seems a mess and a lost cause. Her and her forces face murder in the streets at night by the militant group ‘The Sons of the Harpy” and threats of force from the other slavers in the area including those from Qarth, Volantis and Yunaki. She should have just moved on to Westeros like Mormont and Selmy both advised. Now she sits in Mereen, mooning over the sellsword captain Daario of the Second Sons, while also deciding which merchant lord or noble to marry in order to keep the peace of the city. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was that her dragons were all but absent from most of the book. I thought by now Daenerys would have them trained and ready to use against any enemy, but instead Drogon is missing and off on his own picking off sheep and even a little girl for dinners. Rhaegal and Viserion however are chained and locked up inside the Mereenese pyramid that Daenerys stays in because they are too wild. Seriously? By the end of the book, I’m not so certain about what Daenerys has in store for her in the future. Will she ever go back to conquer Westeros now that Aegon is invading? Or will she become the Queen of the Free Cities once her dragons are under control? I was hoping to have more of an idea by the end of the book but once you read it you won’t have any idea either.
Jaime and Cersei are back in action, or lack there of. Jaime is still busy in the Riverlands after burning Cersei’s plea for him to be her champion in her trial and his only chapter shows him mediating the surrender of the Lord of Raventree. Jaime is a character I have grown to love and I wish there were plenty more chapters with him in it. He’s been humbled by what has happened to his hand and the ill fortune that has befell the Lannisters with his father dead and Cersei imprisoned. We actually finally get to see Brienne in this chapter even though it’s only two lines worth as she claims that she has found Sansa Stark and would take Jaime to her. Too bad I started to like Jaime because I don’t think any good will come of this because chances are she is serving the Brotherhood Without Banners and Lady Stoneheart has plenty of ill will towards this Lord of Lannister.
Cersei is biding her time yet still expecting Jaime to come to her rescue in King’s Landing as the High Septon still holds her captive. She decides to finally confess to the High Septon in order to get back to Tommen’s side and out of captivity, but still planning to have a trial by combat with her champion fighting in her place. She tells her uncle Kevan to let Qyburn know that it is time before she is made to walk from the Sept of Baelor through the streets of King’s Landing to the Red Keep… naked. This scene was a true tribulation for someone like Cersei, forced to let every common man see her naked and to hear them yell things such as “Brother F–ker” and “Whore” at her. I’m not saying Cersei didn’t deserve it, because she deserves far worse, but it definitely humbled her and by far made her more dangerous. Cersei will have come out of this ordeal stronger and with revenge waiting for the High Septon and anyone else who has slighted her since. I would expect the Tyrells to be in her crosshairs next, especially after the events at the end of the book. Her new champion Robert Strong will be something to behold in the books to come, being the dark creation of Qyburn in the bowels of Kings Landing.
I know a lot of people were looking forward to seeing quite a bit of Bran and Arya but I am sad to say even though they had a few chapters each, not a whole lot happened with them. Bran is still on his mission to find the three eyed Crow beyond the Wall. I won’t say much other than he reaches his destination and takes up a special destiny with the ones called the green-seers. Arya on the other hand is still training with the Faceless Men, who are less than convinced that she is ready to forget who she is and truly be one of them. Arya shows them in this book that she is ready, but you will still wonder if she is doing it for her own personal gain or if she is truly to be one of them.
There were a couple other secondary characters in the book with POV chapters, including Areo Hotah whose POV shines some light on what the other Martells in Dorne are up to during this time. Asha Greyjoy gets a couple chapters of treatment, but the most interesting chapters of all the secondary characters (in my opinion) were those belonging to Reek/Theon. After being taken captive at Winterfell by the Bastard of Bolton, Ramsay Snow, we are shone a Theon so beaten and mistreated in the dungeons of the Dreadfort that he truly believes and constantly reminds himself that his name is Reek and that he is Ramsay’s pet. Ramsay Snow Bolton is truly a character to be despised. If there were such a thing as a true villain in the Song of Ice and Fire, he would be it. This guy is one sick son of a bitch with a penchant for raping women and then letting them escape so he can hunt them down with his dogs for sport. He then will name one of his new dogs after the women who gave him some good sport in the hunts. I never thought I would want someone to die as bad as I wanted Joffrey to, but Ramsay Bolton sure fills the void.
As the book progresses we see that Theon is not completely broken after he is let out of the dungeons and that slowly but surely he begins to remember who he truly is. I never would have thought from the start of the series that Theon would have much time to deal with his character but this book gives us some great insight to what his thought process is. After the sacking of Winterfell no one in the North trusts him or looks upon him with respect. He is constantly spat upon and nicknamed “Theon Turncloak” for his treachery at Winterfell. As we saw before in Clash of Kings, even his own father and countrymen saw him as a Northerner when he returned home. In Dance With Dragons we get to find out how Theon wanted to be a Stark and a Northerner, willing to trade his heritage as an Ironborn for it. Now he only despises himself for betraying the Starks and Winterfell for a home that had all but given up on him.
For all of you Davos Seaworth fans, rest easy because he is not dead in this book. The Manderly’s of White Harbor most definitely want the Lannisters and the Crown to think this but it is all part of a clever ruse to attempt placing a Stark in Winterfell once more. This also gives the Manderly’s the opportunity to exact some secret vengeance upon the Freys, to whom they lost some of their kin to at the Red Wedding.
Now to the part that will probably have most fans looking to track George Martin down and beat him senseless. I wouldn’t take it to that extreme but I was definitely stunned once again by another drastic move by Martin. Jon Snow as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch seems to be doing a good job. In regards to Janos Slynt, after the former Lord of Harrenhal disobeys him one too many times Jon makes the decision to make an example of him. He has his men take Slynt to the courtyard where beheads him with Longclaw in front of everyone including Stannis, who nods in approval before going back inside. He then sends out Alliser Thorne with a group of rangers to scout and they never return aside from a couple who are dead. So it would appear most of Jon’s enemies are pretty much eliminated right? Not according to Melisandre who warns Jon that he should have Ghost at his side at all times. I like Jon Snow and was impressed with how he made peace with the wildlings and moved them all through the Wall to settle “The Gift” and help man the Wall against the others, but like his father Ned Stark he fails to see the dangers of the men closest to him while trying to accomplish the greater good. I thought for sure when Wick failed to cut Jon’s throat that danger was averted but when Bowen Marsh stabbed him in the stomach saying “For the Watch.” I pretty much gave up hope. Jon should have seen that those in his council were getting more and more disgruntled by letting the Wildlings through the Wall and onto the Northern lands, but he had so much on his plate that he failed to placate them or hear them out properly. I hope Jon isn’t dead but in the world of George R. R. Martin I wouldn’t be surprised if this is truly the end of him. Hopefully Melisandre can work some sort of magic to bring him back, if she indeed still has use for him.
The last scene of the book was very exciting and saw the return of a certain character and the death of two others. After having a late dinner with Cersei and Tommen, Kevan Lannister goes to the summons of Grand Maester Pycelle in the rookery at the behest of a young boy messenger. The whole scene was eerie as Kevan arrives in the rookery tower to get a crossbow bolt in the chest. As he reels from it he sees Pycelle sitting down with his head wounded, dead in a pool of his own blood. Then Lord Varys comes out of the shadows to explain to Kevan why he has killed them both. It’s amazing to see how Varys has set many of the noble houses against one another, weakening them and allowing them to wipe one another out while the Targaryens grow in strength, not only Daenarys but Aegon as well. Varys predicts that with all of the mistrust already floating around that Cersei will immediately blame the Tyrells for the murders and that the Tyrells will blame Cersei and even the Dornishmen will be part of the blame game. What possible peace there was between Dorne, the Lannisters and Tyrells will be effectively shattered by Lord Varys. His logic is sound as Aegon being on the throne will be better for the people because he was raised to see it as his duty and not a right for personal gain as Cersei sees it in placing Tommen on the throne. It would seem even though Varys has been removed from his place in the kingdom and is on the run in a sense, he is still very powerful. He still knows how to get in and out of the castle and his “little birds” are still everywhere, which is evident in the group of children around him who move in with daggers to finish Kevan Lannister off. Varys seems to truly want to help the people of the realm, already having a distaste for the High Lords of the realm and their game of thrones as he told Ned Stark in the Red Keep’s dungeons in book 1. I truly hope he hasn’t put his faith in the wrong person and Aegon turns out to be the leader he should be.
Overall, I enjoyed the book but it’s going to be pure torture waiting for Martin to complete the next book “The Winds of Winter”. And lord knows he has a lot of time before having to actually complete it before the HBO show catches up with him since it’s only going into season 2. I am giving the book a 4 out of 5 bears.
It was great to at least see every character return, even if a few of them were only for a couple chapters. Noticeably missing from the book by it’s end were the characters of Sansa Stark and Petyr “Little Finger” Baelish. Last time we saw them they were in the Vale of Arryn with Little Finger securing his position of power by murdering Lysa Arryn and becoming Lord Protector of the Vale with plans to marry Sansa to Robert Arryn. Baelish is one of the more interesting characters in the series and I hope to see him featured in a POV chapter in Winds of Winter.
The deaths were all surprising, still showing that Martin has no qualms with offing anyone in these novels. He doesn’t just kill with reckless abandon, there’s always a reason behind the deaths in his Song of Ice and Fire novels. I couldn’t give it the full five bears simply because not enough happened with many of the core characters in particular Daenerys. She really didn’t move forward at all, if anything she took two steps back. Without a doubt the book moved things along but only a little. It felt like Martin was just trying to get readers back into the swing of things after being gone from Westeros so long. So I say to him, we’re back and ready to go so bring on Wind of Winter…. in the next couple years if you can.