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Rated: E · Review · Fantasy · #1801315
First thoughts on Martin's Dance with Dragons. Welcome to Jordan Country
Like many of you, I looked forward the latest installment of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. I eagerly started it. My eagerness soon waned.

Spoilers abound:

We’ve entered Jordan County.

If you’ll look to your right you’ll see a memorial to its namesake, James Oliver Rigley Jr (“Robert” to friends and fans) who like many intrepid pioneers passed away in the midst of exploring his territory, leaving others to finish.

This excruciatingly detailed landscape includes such features as a glacial plot and a travesty of beloved characters.

Jordan Country is pleased to welcome its newest settler, George RR Martin.

Alright, seriously…

I’m torn. On the one hand, I greatly admire Martin and all he’s accomplished and I sympathize with the enormous challenge a series like this represents, and nobody likes a Monday morning quarterback.

On the other hand, I feel Martin may be too close to see he’s getting away from what made his series great.

My critique can be summed up succinctly: why did this need to be written?

From what I understand, Martin was originally going to do a break in years between SoS and the upcoming books, but realized the flashbacks and backstory would be cumbersome to recap.

Well…what does he thing made the first three so great? All the little scenes of backstory peppered throughout! Jaime’s time with the Kingsguard under Aerys, the rebellion, Littlefinger growing up with the Tullies, all wonderful, but did we need to see it all? I get the feeling this new Martin would devote whole chapters to Tyrion’s marriage to Tysha, their discovery and punishment.

Like it or not, and all those who praise Martin for breaking new ground probably won’t, Martin was writing to a formula. For all the wonderful complexity the basic skeleton was a simple one: three books of setup, two or three books of payoff.

Greg Keyes is sometimes given the backhanded compliment of Martin-light, but he has mastered the formula in all its permutations. I cite Keyes’ “Age of Unreason” series, and more recently, his “Kingdom and Thorn and Bone” series the first half (two books in AoU and three in KoTaB) dedicated to causing turmoil in the world and getting all the characters in position (and having a lot of fun too) and the last installment is all payoff.

That was the formula Martin started with, but he has wandered off the track.

The problem is that so much of the first three books were devoted to getting certain key characters into position, but once they were in position, we don’t need to see them for awhile because we know very well nothing big can happen until those dragons are grown up.

For me, AFFC worked because none of the big characters were present, and I was fine with that. There was nothing for them to do anyway.

For example, I would’ve loved to see Bran and Arya ‘fully formed’ in their sorcerer and assassin roles, then maybe get a couple flashbacks or descriptions of their ‘training’ days. Bran’s reveal as the green-dreamin’ lord of the weirwood groves could have been an incredible climax, maybe follow it up with a few brief flashbacks in the following book…

But enough what-ifs.

There are a lot of specific criticisms I could level, but one stands out for me at least: what is the point of Cersei getting her comeuppance now, and at the hands of some secondary characters we don’t care about? In the first three books we hated Joffrey, Cersei, Jaime and Tywin. We hated them with a passion because we saw them through the eyes of their victims, and because Cersei, Joffrey and Tywin kept getting away with it. Joffrey and Tywin got away with their rotten acts right up until the end, and then we cheered when they finally died. Martin got the maximum mileage out of those two characters. With Cersei broken and reduced to an incidental character, what satisfaction are we supposed to get when Dany finally comes along to topple her regime?

Needless to say (but like Martin I’ll say it anyway) ASOIAF is no longer on my ‘buy before looking’ list. I don’t shell out my money till I get a library copy first.

Meanwhile, I'll cross my fingers and hope Martin can pull a U-turn and get out of Jordan Country before his epic is lost in the quagmire.
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