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'A Dance with Dragons' thoughts

Spoilers for those who haven't read it or haven't finished it. Just because two different people on my friends list gave away a very important plot event to me before I'd got there, doesn't mean I'm going to do the same...

This isn't a review by the way; rather it is speculation and some thoughts on the reaction to this book. I will quickly say though that I really liked it, and if I do ever write a review on Amazon, I will give it five stars.

Bunn has posted previously about the "grumpy readers" on Amazon. I'd avoided reading reviews until I'd finished the book, but was taken aback myself. (There are more one star reviews than five star reviews - that's quite unusual for Amazon reviews, except for PC games with lots of DRM, where people tend to protest by posting one star reviews.) My take on this is that a lot of people have already worked out in their head how the series will end (something like Daenerys comes to Westeros with her dragons, falls in love with the perfect Jon Snow, who is actually a Targaryen since he is actually the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark, and then together they find Bran and conquer Westeros, doing nasty things to the baddies, but not to Tyrion because he's a really good character). When Mr Martin writes about characters who have no part in this rather simplistic plot resolution, he gets criticised for not moving "the plot" forward.

Then there are the readers who have formed their own views about the future behaviour of individual characters that tends towards the more simplistic interpretation. This interpretation fits in with how they _want_ the character to behave and doesn't allow for character development. These readers want Daenerys to always be the strong and effective leader that she was in 'A Storm of Swords' and Jon Snow to turn out to be an effective and popular Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Daenerys seemingly being stumped as to what she should do next seems entirely reasonable to me (why should she have all the answers?) as does her falling for a glamorous mercenary character even though she knows he isn't exactly consort material. And I thought the way the author developed the Jon Snow = Caesar / Bowen Marsh = Brutus plot was very clever writing. He takes advantage of his 'point of view' style to give the reader subtle hints of what is going on in the preceeding chapters while also communicating Snow's naivity and failure to understand the true feelings of the conspirators.

Yesterday I had quite a bit of fun reading through some of the threads in the forums at westeros.org. I particularly liked the one about references and homages in the series and the one about crackpot theories.

I'd spotted a couple of references myself on reading through the books (for example, there's an obscure member of the Lannister family tree called Titus Peake, which must be a Gormenghast reference), but I'd missed some of the others. Despite having read and greatly enjoyed 'Emphyrio' by Jack Vance and knowing that Martin is a big Vance fan, I had nevertheless missed the character Emphyria Vance. However, some of the other "references and homages" must surely be merely coincidental. (Bran & Hodor = 'MasterBlaster' from Mad Max anyone? Or how about "Grand Maester Pycelle told Cersei that she had not lost a son, but rather gained a daughter" which apparently must be a reference to 'Monthy Python and the Holy Grail' and not say a perfectly common expression...)

I had even more fun in the crackpot theories section. Some of the crackpot theories are obviously meant to be silly. I particularly liked the one that said that Varys isn't a eunuch but is actually a hermaphrodite (so he goes from someone with no genitalia to someone with twice the usual amount!) and that Aegon is the result of his/her/its love affair with Illyrio, but that this still makes him a Targaryen since Varys is obviously descended from the third son of Aegon IV (Egg in 'The Hedge Knight') who is "significantly" mentioned for the first time in ADWD.

The thing is, you have to have some sympathy for the crackpot theories, since some actual plot points are pretty similar. How about "Rhaegar's baby son wasn't killed by Lannister forces in the sack of King's Landing, but was swapped for another baby and rescued by none other than Lord Connington, and brought up under the protection of Magister Illyrio who turns out to be one of the prime movers of the entire plot"?

The original "crackpot theory" is that Jon Snow was (or possibly "is"*) the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark, and there certainly seem to be a lot of hints that this might be true. (Lyanna dying in a "bed of blood" and making Ned "promise her" something and being guarded by Knights of the Kingsguard who have nothing better to do - that sort of thing.) I must admit though that if I was the author and this was my original plan, I'd be very tempted to change that plot completely just to keep fans on their toes.

I had previously mentioned to bunn that the Baratheons have a recent Targaryen bloodline in them and came up with my own not-really-that-serious crackpot theory that either Gendry or the mule girl in the Eyrie would turn out to be one of the three heads of the Dragon. But another aspect of this Baratheon / Targaryen link had not occurred to me until I saw it mentioned in this thread. Somebody was clever enough to point out that there are no Targaryen ruling queens, and that furthermore if you go back, you can see that Viserys II apparently became king after his elder brother died, even though his brother had a daughter. In fact, outside of Dorne and Nymeria, there do not appear to have been ruling queens of any of the Seven Kingdoms. So assuming that Aegon really is who Lord Connington says he is, he would be the legitimate Targaryen heir, Daenerys wouldn't count at all, and the next in line would actually be Stannis (assuming that the truth about Tommen is made clear). Bunn is a Stannis fan and reckons that he will end up "winning".

* Despite Martin's reputation as a "high body count" author, I could swear that more characters come back to life in ADWD than actually die. Aegon, Theon, Jayne etc. A funny crackpot theory that made me laugh was the notion that Eddard Stark and Dolorous Edd are actually one and the same person. I mean if Ser Ilyn Payne chopped your head off, you'd be pretty dolorous too...



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 8th, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC)
I hope I wasn't one of the people who spoiled you. I did post about the book, but I put it behind a cut and clearly labelled it as containing spoilers.

I enjoyed the book a lot while reading it - well, until Jon Snow went and (possibly) died, which caused me quite a serious outpouring of angst. Once I got over that and was able to look back at the book more rationally, I can sympathise with at least some of the criticism. I do feel that the book had too many cliffhangers and unresolved plot lines. Yes, I know it's just one book in a long series, so clearly there can't be any sort of real closure, but the first three books felt to me as if they had proper endings, in which most of the characters were entering new chapters in their lives. This felt to me very much like a fairly arbitrary slice from a much longer story, whereas the first three felt like novels with their own beginnings, middles and ends, that took place within the context of a longer story.

Which is certainly not to say that I disliked it or would give it one star; I enjoyed it immensely while reading it. It wouldn't have been an issue at all if I'd been reading the book as part of an already-completed series, but given that I've got to wait many years for the next one, I'd rather have at least some sense of resolution in some of the plots - which the first 3 books gave me.
Aug. 8th, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
No, it wasn't you...

I can sort of see where you're coming from regarding cliffhangers. I don't think I'd have ended things where Mr Martin ended things. For one thing, there's a dramatic ending in the Epilogue, but several major characters like Bran, Daenerys, Jaime and Tyrion don't get dramatic endings or cliffhangers. Bran and Daenerys could have had if the book had ended a little sooner.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )