Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Monday, July 25, 2011

What's the collective noun for dragons? A Frustration?

I finished A Dance with Dragons over the weekend. I have things to say. But before I say them, I want to be clear about something; I read the hell out of this book. I tucked my nook under my monitor so I could read a page or two while my jobs ran. I read it at lunch. I read while I wandered around outside with my dog. I read while I should have been writing. By the end I was just pushing through to get to the end, but still, most books that produce this level of frustration for me I would have just thrown to the side. GRRM does a lot of things right. But I need to express what I think he does wrong. It's my nature. I'm a writer. Also, *SPOILERS*, duh.

Gods, where to start. I need to reiterate that the magic is getting out of hand. A Game of Thrones was a real breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre because it only minimally touched on the supernatural. Because it's largely a medieval book you kind of have to include some of this, because people at the time really believed in dragons and giants and shapeshifting wolf people, and it's really only a small step to include evidence of such things in the past and maybe a hint of something horrible beyond the Wall. But what I loved was that this was basically a story about knights and ladies and the common, human emotions that can lead to epic tales. It doesn't take a secret history of alien interference or magical blood or a sword forged in the heart of hell to make an epic story. It takes people. People can be epic. They should be epic.

And now we're five books in and people are no longer epic. Oracles buried under the earth, and wild dragons, and prophetic dreams that guide the characters, and whatever the hell else was included in the pages I skipped... those things are epic. Too epic. GRRM did a good thing at the beginning of this series, and he's either betrayed it or never intended to stay true to it, or something.

I should also point out that I don't skip paragraphs usually, much less pages. The last chapter (actually the second to last chapter, but how about we just call it the last chapter that wasn't misnamed as an epilogue) was bad. I was trying to think of a word that wasn't quite so harsh but that accurately demonstrated my disdain, but to hell with it. It was a bad chapter. I skipped so much of that chapter. Terrible way to end a book.

Also, because there are so many ponderous storylines running in parallel, the last fifth of the book is dedicated to ending the book. Each time a chapter ended I had to think "Is that the last time I see this character in this book? If so, was that a satisfying way to tie up their storyline for now?" And sometimes I would think "No, there certainly needs to be more said before we're set adrift for the next book" only to never see them again, or I would think that I was done with someone, only to have them pop up and be irrelevant for another chapter, often ruining a perfectly good ending with additional and unnecessary exposition.

And when you have plotline after plotline drawing to a close for such an extended period of time, things get tiring. We all know how a novel should be shaped, but when you're trying to coordinate a dozen or so lines and have them land in a coordinated manner, it's just tough. And it's tough to read.

The last thing I'll say about this book specifically is that GRRM in the past has done a good job of surprise killing characters. I was really near the end of this book and thought "Wow, no one important has died, I don't think. Am I really going to get through a Martin book without someone dropping off the twig?" I'm pretty sure GRRM looked at his draft and had the exact same thought at the exact same moment, because he immediately killed three major characters in succession. Well, majorish. Including the last Stark that I give half a damn about, assuming that he actually died there and won't wake up in a bed, grievously wounded but still relevant to the plot. As Starks are wont to do.

Actual final thought. Dany is a terrible queen. And she and young Griff occupy the same narrative space in the plot. Eliminate one of them, and then make that one relevant. He's doing the things with Griff that he should have done with Dany, but Dany went off in some wild other direction that is a waste of pages as far as the central plot goes, so it kind of feels like GRRM pulled Griff out of his hat to do the things that he originally intended Dany to do, before she became occupied with slutting it up all across the Narrow Sea.

So, where does the series go from here? GRRM doesn't seem like the kind of writer who is suddenly going to exercise some narrative discipline, cut down the whirling nebula of characters that is spinning out of control across Westros, and finish the series in the next couple books. I also don't see him producing the next book all that quickly. Is he going to continue producing half the narratives at a time, five years apart? Do I have to wait five to eight years for the next book, only to find out what happens to half of the characters I care about, all while threshing through a dozen narrative plotlines that I don't find relevant? And then another five to eight years to tie up the rest of the plotlines? I seriously hope not. While I see no immediate evidence of this, I hope his editor is able to discourage that sort of behavior. But any one book that follows all of these characters is only going to cover a minimal amount of narrative space. We have a long way to go with Westros, and at this pace we're never going to get there.

Do you think HBO knew what they were getting into? In fairness, I haven't seen the show yet, but my understanding is that they had to clip a lot out to keep it focused enough for a television series. They finished A Game of Thrones in one season. Maybe in the next two seasons they get through to A Feast for Crows. And the way that a television series has to be structured, they're going to edit the hell out of the plot up to that point, and will take a mean blade to books four and five. I predict they'll do AFFC and ADWD in one season. It's one season of material, with three seasons worth of cast. Will GRRM have even written another book by then? I'm guessing no. And then what does HBO do? I'm going to go with "Get Frustrated."


At 10:27 AM , Blogger Lucy said...

it kind of feels like GRRM pulled Griff out of his hat to do the things that he originally intended Dany to do, before she became occupied with slutting it up all across the Narrow Sea.

I pretty much agree with a lot of the comments you make in this review. I also wasn't thrilled with the dragging out of Dany's time in Meereen in order to satisfy plot travel-time requirements, but it's possible to make that critique without, you know, casual and disturbing sexism. (OMG, Dany had sex with one guy she fancied and made a political marriage to one she didn't. THAT WHORE.)


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