A Tangle of Plotlines
I'm currently reading A Dance with Dragons, George RR Martin's epicly overdue fifth Westros novel. I think I started reading these when the third one came out, and the first two are some of my favorite books ever. The third was fine, but it was beginning to strain under the weight of its own mass. That mass became critical in book four. I still read the hell out of that book, mind you, but I found its form kind of horrific. For those of you who don't follow (who are you people!) the fourth book was way overdue and way over wordcount, and he didn't feel like it was even half done. GRRM has this problem with creating more and more characters, and while he's pretty good at killing them off, the narrative threads were still expanding at a much greater rate than they were being snipped off. So, oddly, the fourth book ended up being a certain part of the narrative from about half the characters in the series, and book five is the same period of time from the other half. I can't call that a good plan, I'm sorry. You shouldn't mean to write a book like that, and if you end up writing a book like that, you've made a grave mistake somewhere.
Still. I read the books, because they're well written and the characters are interesting. I have a couple nits to pick, though, so I'd like to go ahead and lay those out for you. Don't consider this a bad review of the book. It's a good book. But there are things that bubble up as I'm reading that I have to vent.
Before I go any further, I should point out that my agent, Joshua Bilmes, has his own list of complaints here. I agree with some of the things he says, but not all. I have found myself skipping through GRRM's pointless lists and even (gasp) a lot of his description, especially of pointless people. I don't care about the histories or even names of the six who travel with Jon north of the wall to say their vows in the godswood. They're not prime motivators. They are there to give Jon and excuse to go north, for plot purpose. Don't make them more than they are. Anyway. I guess that's complaint number one, and as long as I've begun my list, I may as well continue.
So I guess the next thing is that the characters and places are like caricatures of medieval things. Kind of like the Medieval Times equivalent of characters. These knights who are eternally donning helmets cunningly fashioned into fish heads or pig snouts or whatever, that's what knights wore to tournaments, and that's kind of it. The Boltons, with their flaying and their pink everything, it's like you dipped Vlad the Impaler into pepto bismol. And the throne room in White Harbor? The interior of the throne room was painted to look like it was underwater, with waves and sea creatures painted on the walls and floor, and the ceiling was draped with fishing nets. And all I could think as I read those several pages of description was that this place looks like Long John Silvers, and then I couldn't take it seriously. So that keeps getting in my way.
Also, ever since this series started people have been describing it as a low magic fantasy. Those people are reading a different book. What's sad is that what interests me most about the books (and I think I stand with the majority of the fans in this) are the unmagical people and places and events of the book. For a little while it was about petty kings and proud knights fighting for their place in history. And in book three a little more magic crept in, and then in book four it was a major player. And now? Book five is choked with it. I don't know if this was GRRM's intent from the beginning. There are certainly indications that it was, but I wish to gods he would have left it out. I think there's some requirement in a fantasy novel for at least the implication of magical power in the world, and that's pretty much where he started in Game of Thrones. But now everyone's a "skin walker" and there are magicians and ghosts and... it's too much. If he stayed with the level of magic in the first novel, maybe bumped it up a little bit, things would have been okay. But the people in the book who aren't magical have pretty much no chance in this magic-sotted environment. Too. Much.
I haven't finished the book yet. I'm sure I'll have more thoughts as I go along. I keep getting frustrated because when I think of the events of the last book I honestly have no idea if those things have happened yet in this timeline, or if they have yet to happen, or what. It's a terrible way to tie two books together.