A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, came out on July 12, 2011, exactly seven years ago today. At 414,788 words, it is a beast of a novel, the longest in the series so far. It sports a record 16 different point-of-view characters, not counting the narrators for the prologue and epilogue. Essentially the second half of A Feast for Crows, it’s also a strange book, since the stories it tells run contemporaneously with the ones in the prior novel, up to a point. It has rabid fans and impassioned detractors, but whatever your opinion of it, there’s no question it looms large in the Game of Thrones fan community.
Personally, I enjoy A Dance with Dragons, although I do wish Martin stepped on the gas sometimes; the book can get caught up in minutia and drag. (For example, did we really need two chapters of Davos Seaworth trying to meet with Lord Wyman Manderly before finally appearing in the Merman’s Court to plead his case?) Still, Martin is in full command of his world and his characters here, and his careful plotting leads to many iconic sequences, including Daenerys Targaryen mounting Drogon in Daznak’s Pit, Cersei Lannister’s Walk of Atonement, and Jon Snow’s assassination. Theon’s chapters in Winterfell are haunting, being let in on Barristan Selmy’s thoughts is a treat, and Martin says a lot about leadership by paralleling the stories of Jon and Daenerys, both of whom are adjusting to positions of authority. A Dance with Dragons is not a compromised book, which works for and against it.
Unfortunately, at this point, Dance may be best known for not being The Winds of Winter, the long-awaited sixth book in the series. Ever since the publication of A Storm of Swords way back in 2000, the wait for each subsequent novel has gotten longer. Fans had to wait five years for Feast in 2005, six for Dance in 2011, and Winds still hasn’t come. If that book is released in the next 365 days, Martin can at least establish a rhythm, adding a year to the wait for each book.
But hopefully not.
Ultimately, it’s hard to know how A Dance with Dragons will hold up in the long run, since it leaves several story threads dangling. What will happen in the battle between Stannis Baratheon and the Boltons? What about the fight between the slavers, free companies, Ironborn and Unsullied at Meereen? Both of these conflicts are heating up when Dance ends, and even if HBO’s show has already given the broad strokes of the outcomes, we’ll have to read Winds to find out Martin’s interpretation.
Happy seventh birthday, A Dance with Dragons. You’re going places.