It’s been a while but I’ve finally gotten around to doing this review, which should cap off my reviews for the A Song of Ice and Fire series, at least until The Winds of Winter comes out. Like the books before it, it is very hard to summarise the book in a few sentences and continues the multitude of plot threads carried over from the previous books. A Dance of Dragons is different from the other books in the series since it takes place at the same time as A Feast for Crows rather than follow on from it like previous books of the series. Instead it focuses on the characters who were left out from the previous book due to Martin splitting the plot by location. Thus a lot of fan favourites such as Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen return to the plot after a long absence.
Like before there are a lot of weak plot threads such Daenerys, who is stuck ruling Meereen and dealing with holding a city rather than invading Westeros as per her original plan. Hence she gets involved in the politics of a city, clashing with the Sons of the Harpy resistance group in a rather boring plot thread while some other random people such as Quentyn Martell begin to take an interest in Daenerys or her dragons, with a wish to use them for their own purposes.Another weak thread is that of Jon Snow. Jon Snow’s story seems to have a huge focus on the politics of the wall and his entanglement in Westeros politics after harbouring would be king Stannis Baratheon, and the duties he must face as the new lord commander of the Night’s Watch. Again, there is a lot of political drama in a plot thread where I hoped there would be more action so I was disappointed. Even the mutiny at the end seems unable to make up for it, as good as a twist that was, since it felt a bit unceremonious for such an important character.
That being said though, there were some good plots within the story. The most notable are the early stages of Tyrion’s journey across the narrow sea, Theon Greyjoy’s time as Reek amongst others. Tyrion’s journey is strange since the most interesting aspects of it happen towards the beginning, with his journey towards the ending of the book being quite boring. His story arc introduces an interesting twist which changes the rest of the series, namely a certain character within the background lore who is assumed to be dead is revealed to in fact be alive. His plot begins to set in pieces of the end game, at least until he his kidnapped by Jorah Mormont in a desperate attempt to regain Daenerys’ favour. Instead they get captured by slavers alongside a dwarf girl named Penny, who seems to be set up as a possible love interest for Tyrion. The slavery arc seems to drag out and even though Tyrion eventually escapes, he is still no closer to Daenerys than he was at the beginning of the book. That being said though, with his wit he still manages to make the journey sound interesting and entertaining despite the mishaps.
Theon is interesting from a psychological perspective since he has undertaken a new persona as Reek. As Reek he is subject to the whims of Ramsay Bolton, and becomes party to the mistreatment of the false Arya Stark, who is in reality a former friend of the Starks known as Jeyne Poole. Ramsay Bolton and his sadism are what sell Theon’s story arc, as he gradually reasserts himself. His story arc has a neat little intersection with that of Bran Stark after the latter contacts him during one of his visions, something which helps him regain his sanity. The story arc did a lot to give sympathy to Theon, whom we had previously come to hate, and it redeemed his character a lot in my eyes. To see him regain his sense of self was empowering, and I secretly hope that when the time comes, Theon gets the opportunity to stab Ramsay in the gut and get some much needed revenge.
Overall the book was a huge improvement on the previous book. I still wouldn’t consider it the strongest installment in the series, but considering the mess it was trying to fix I never expected it to be the masterpiece in the same way the earlier books were. I liked how, towards the end some of the characters from the last book started to appear again, and at that point it started to feel like a normal book in the series again and I felt a sense of relief. Despite my misgivings with this book it was still better than the previous instalment and I remain optimistic about the series as a whole. I live in hope that The Winds of Winter will live up to the hype, and when it comes out I look forward to reviewing it.
IN A WORD: IMPROVED