Epic-length novel makes a challenging read
By Sarthak Shankar
A Dance With Dragons, George RR Martin,Harper Collins, Pp 1001(HB), price £25.
George R R Martin smashes a challenge on the face of book worms with his latest in a long line of best sellers: A Dance With Dragons (ADWD). This is Martin’s fifth novel in the ongoing series, A Song Of Ice and Fire, a series which led to it’s author being recognised as “America’s Toulkien,” and for good reason: the story narrated is awesome.
As with all other series, understanding what is going on in book five of a series of seven is practically impossible. This little problem is exacerbated in ADWD simply due to it’s size and plethora of characters. If that weren’t reason enough, however, Martin has pulled a little mischief with “forward” flow of the story.
Every so often we face the problem of having too much to say, and so did Martin. But he came up with a remarkable solution — divide the book. Like Eragon’s author Christopher Paolini, Martin found that ADWD’s predecessor, A Feast for Crows (AFFC) was getting too large to manage, and so he cleaved it into two. But there’s a catch; Martin divided his book not on the basis of chronology, but the characters. That is, the events in AFFC and ADWD happen in the same time line, just that ADWD brings the perspectives of some sorely missed characters in the events that transpired in AFFC.
In AFFC we became too well acquainted with Dorne and the good people of Iron Island. All this happened while we were left dust wondering about our sorely missed heroes who had gone with the wind for over a decade.
Thus we are reunited with Martin’s most popular characters. We catch up with the bastard warrior Jon Snow who is now the lord commander of the wall. While he is dealing with his new responsibilities he also faces threats from his own men. Elsewhere the dwarf Tyrion Lannister is on the run, accused of murdering his nephew, while being guilty of putting a crossbow bolt through his father’s genitals when he was in the loo. But unknowingly the little man will be delivered to queen Daenerys who now has no less than three mature, feral dragons. Daenerys is the last heir of House Targaryen yet has problems of her own as she is attempting to restore peace and order in her newly acquired kingdom.
What makes Martin stand out is his in-your-face style of writing. When you think you can safely assume that he has played his hand, he pops up with an ace up his sleeve. There is literally no character so near to his heart that it can’t be killed. After four books Martin’s skill as a author is undeniable, but what is even more undeniable is Martin’s skill as a narrator. In spite of producing a novel with over 18 different characters, the whole thing seems to make perfect sense.
Martin exemplifies the basic rule of an artist: respect your creation. No character is too menial to not be given a chance to have his or her say. He makes it a point to try and reveal every facet of the seven kingdoms. A war won may be good or bad depending on which angle we look at it from. In his endeavour to make his work as unique as possible Martin doesn’t even spare the gods of his universe. There is no right or wrong: the gods favour anyone who offers them prayer.
This does mean that the story lengthens and the plot is filled with various twists so its easy to lose your way. But the effort is well rewarded. The story is inherently gripping. The 1000 pages read as if it were a fraction the size, and Martin leaves the readers wanting more.
(HarperCollins, 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB)