A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin
Blimey, Martin don't half go on! This is the fifth volume in his ongoing epic fantasy series "A Song Of Ice and Fire". It was originally intended to be part of volume four, but because of Martin's uncontrollable logorrhoea that got split in two because it was simply too big to print. Once split, the first half, which became volume 4 "A Feast for Crows", was still a hefty 976 pages. We then waited five years for this, the second half. Martin obviously took the opportunity to fiddle with it and no doubt substantially rewrite parts of it. The resulting fifth volume ended up so big that in some editions it was itself printed in two volumes, called "Dreams and Dust" and "After the Feast".
It's fairly clear where he's fiddled too. A Feast for Crows ended up being just about events and people in the southern half of Westeros (Martin's fictional world), and A Dance With Dragons was supposed to simply be the northern half of the same story, with events happening in parallel. It didn't work out quite that way. All of the first half (Dreams and Dust) and some of the second (After the Feast ) is parallel to A Feast for Crows, but not all of it, with action in the last third returning south and happening after A Feast for Crows had finished. Confused? Actually, you won't be. The temporal shenanigans are handled well.
What is still a bit confusing is, just as I criticised in A Feast for Crows, some of the relationships between people. Us modern denizens of a democratic capitalist world just aren't used to keeping track of feudal relationships and having family and clan relationships be so important is alien to us. No doubt my primitive ancestors of four or five hundred years ago would cope much better with this than I can - those of them who could read! I occasionally found myself having to turn to the genealogies in the back. It's good that they're provided, but it's irritating that they're necessary.
Characterisation is excellent. They are all real, as are the places they inhabit - you can almost smell the fear, filth and food, and feel the cold of the far north and the blazing heat and thirst of southern oceans. If anything, this is even better done than in the previous volumes, and so you would expect me to give it higher marks than A Feast for Crows. But I'm not going to. Yes, it's marginally superior in that regard, but the prolixity and the poor planning evident in the haphazard splitting of volumes bugged me. It only bugged me a bit, but on top of that, there's a sense in which nothing much of consequence seems to happen in A Dance With Dragons, as if everyone is holding their breath. And, now that I look back on the previous volume, I have the same feeling about that too - there was lots of rushing around and busyness, but little of it to much great purpose.