I’ve been working my way through this thick tome for about a month and a half, and finally finished it on our vacation. Kind of sad to see it end, even so. This fifth volume of “A Song of Ice and Fire” is every bit as good as the rest, though the story and cast of characters has now grown so large that it takes a while to get rolling. I mean, you know what you’re in for when a book begins with not one but five maps and the character list appendix is over 50 pages!
As before, Martin spins out several main story threads and quite a few minor ones as well. This time one major threads focus on Tyrion, the sarcastic dwarf son of the former King of Westeros, and the person who murdered that king, now a captive in a far land, a pawn in several power struggles, and a man whose own intelligence is often thwarted by his destructive habits and big mouth. The fact that Martin makes him one of the most likeable characters in the series says a lot.
Then we have Daenerys, now a Queen in the far eastern land of Valyria, and the “mother” of the three young dragons of the title, who are now getting quite large and independent, causing her all kinds of problems. But her more serious problem is trying to rule the lands and cities she’s captured. Having taken her throne in the city of Meereen, she finds it almost impossible to bend to her will, and all kinds of intrigues and compromises are forced upon her. Her plan was to assemble an army and sail back to Westeros to claim the throne there, but she’s ever more entangled in the web of Meereen.
Finally we have Jon Snow, the bastard son of House Stark, now the leader of the Night Watch, a group of former criminals and outcasts tasked with guarding the great ice wall at the northern edge of Westeros from the ever threatening forces beyond it. The world of this series is one where the seasons progress over a series of years rather than yearly, and Autumn is giving way to Winter. It may be a Winter that will mean the end of everything Westeros has known, but meanwhile Jon Snow is trying is best with what little he has, even if it means joining forces with some of his enemies.
There are lots more storylines interspersed among these, and in the later part of the book some characters from the previous volume are caught up with as well. As I said, this massive wheel of a story takes a while to get rolling, but when it does, things really roll along nicely from one exciting episode to another. Certainly no one is having a good time, everyone is suffering in some way or even several ways, and yet they persevere and struggle on with all that’s arrayed against them. It really is a remarkable series, putting a new kind of grim realism into the swords and sorcery format, and Martin’s writing is superb, getting to the center of every mind, no matter how dark that center may be.
Highly recommended, but of course, start at the beginning with “A Game of Thrones.” And will this series ever really be finished? Hard to know, but I feel I’ve gained a lot of pleasure and knowledge from reading it anyway.