Say you really loved the sitcom, Cheers. You were totally into the zany exploits of Sam, Norm, Cliff, Woody, Fraser, and the rest of the gang. You tuned in every week like clockwork and laughed your butt off. Then, somewhere around the 11th or 12th season, the plot followed Fraser as he moved to Seattle. It spends a lot of time with Fraser, actually. Next thing you know, every episode is set in Seattle, where we meet Fraser’s father, his zany brother Niles, and a bunch of other characters. You keep watching, but you also keep cursing and asking the TV ‘where the hell is Norm, guys? What’s going on at the bar?’ Then it hits you – you aren’t watching Cheers anymore. This is a spin-off called Fraser.
Except nobody ever told you, and the show is still called Cheers.
This, my friends, is exactly how I felt upon finishing A Dance with Dragons this weekend. I have come to the conclusion that I am no longer reading the series of books I started and, accordingly, my interest in the storyline has faded to almost nothing. I am not reading any more of the books, since I don’t see the point. I didn’t sign on to watch Fraser, guys.
Oh, and if you care about these things, there are lots of ‘spoilers’ below. I put the word ‘spoilers’ in quotes because I fail to see how a series of storylines completely irrelevant to the one you’re reading now could be ‘spoiled’ at all (presuming you are in the first three books of Song of Ice and Fire). Anyway, you’ve been warned.
Before I set about tearing into the book, I’d like to give some shout-outs to the things I liked. There aren’t many:
1) To Jon Snow: For cutting off that fucker Janos Slynt’s head. That felt good.
2) To Wyman Manderly: For uttering the following line: “Perhaps it is for the best. Had he lived, he would have grown up to be a Frey.” <zing!>
3) To Theon Greyjoy: For having the decency to mope about all the Starks being dead and the old days being gone for good. I really identified with him in that sense.
4) To Danerys’s Dragons: For fucking shit up and finally, finally introducing some action into the plot, even if it was only for the last 10% of the book.
Now, to Brass Tacks
I will henceforward refer to the vast majority of this book and the last book as ‘The Dithering’. I call it ‘the Dithering’ because that’s what happened – Dithering. Most of the books were various individuals sitting on their asses and wondering what to do next. So much internal monologue it made me want to scream, and this is even though Martin is really good at writing inner monologues. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we were seeing the thoughts and hopes and dreams of characters we cared about, but Davos Seaworth? Victarion Greyjoy? Quentyn Martell? Jesus Christ! Booooring! Also, it seems to me that Martin deliberately avoids writing action sequences since, for the vast majority of instances, the action happens off-stage. Did Stannis have his head cut off by Bolton? If so, HOLY CRAP that’s something I would have liked to see. Screw you, Martin. If it isn’t true…meh. More Dithering is to come, I suppose.
Beyond the Dithering, however, is the fact that the story is no longer about the things I care about anymore. It has become a series about other plots, other families, and other conflicts that, frankly, don’t interest me in the least. My interests, at the start of the series, were as follows:
#1: The Fate of the Starks: I wanted to know if the Starks could spring back from the blows of the Red Wedding and Ned Stark’s death. I have my answer now, and it is ‘no, they can’t.’ Ned is Dead, Robb is Dead, Catelyn is Dead, Jon is Probably Dead, Sansa is worthless, Rickon is a toddler somewhere, Arya Stark is being actively convinced by other characters to stop being a Stark, and Bran has decided to sit down and become a tree. Gotcha – I can stick a fork in this one, folks.
#2: Justice for the Lannisters: I wanted to watch the Lannisters pay for what they’d done. Well, Tywin is dead, Joffery is Dead, Jamie is gone rogue, Cersei is mortified and finished, Tommen and Mycella are children, and Tyrion is halfway around the world and no longer directly involved in this plotline anymore. Finished here.
#3: Can Jon Snow Hold off the Others at the Wall: The answer is ‘no’. Even if he isn’t dead, everybody up there sucks so badly at life that I think it’s a foregone conclusion.
#4: Will Danerys be the Targaryens claim the Iron Throne: This, I should point out, is a distant fourth. I really only care insofar as it related to plot’s 1 and 2, and all the Dithering has convinced me that the amount of time it is going to take Danerys to get her ass back to Westeros is such that it doesn’t make sense for me to read the other books. Besides, there’s Young Griff already back there, ruining the surprise for Danerys, and there goes the novelty of that little plotline. Booo.
As for the rest of them, they can all jump, for all I care. I don’t care about Dorne, I could give a crap about Sam and his schooling, the Seastone Chair I have already ranted about at length, all those mercenary companies disinterest me, Stannis and the Bolton’s deserve each other, the Others can undead-ify the world, for all I care, and the whole slave revolt/Red God thing? Who cares? Martin trying to get me to care about the slaves of Slaver’s Bay is like Hermione Granger trying to get everyone to give a crap about House Elves.
Oh yeah, and Danerys had her chance to ride her dragons a long time ago. Now it’s too late – I just don’t care. When all those guys from her past were giving her crap about not moving on from Mereen while she was hallucinating, I was right there with them saying ‘yeah! Tell her!’
So, there you have it. I’m done with Westeros – all that has thus far occurred has convinced me I haven’t anything to look forward to. At the very least it isn’t like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, which took a somewhat more kick-ass story (and somewhat less ‘gritty’) and dithered itself away into a bloated monstrosity of nothing happening at all until, at last, the author died. Yeah, at least that hasn’t happened to Martin.
Posted on October 10, 2011, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged A Dance with Dragons, A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin, rant, Westeros. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.
You’re calling both of these two books The Dithering is very aprapo… as that seems to be an exact mirror to Martin himself and his entire process to get these two books on the shelf. And it seems to me that a really good indication of how the last two books of the series will play out will be based upon how long it takes him to write them.
I’m not a writer (and you’d be able to answer this question much better than I could), but it just seems that as a writer if you have a story you want to tell, and characters and action you want to follow… the urge and desire to push forward is all-encompassing. Even if its just a first draft, and even if you occasionally run into blocks or dead ends… you’re still excited enough about the process of telling the story that you just keep pushing forward.
The fact that Martin put both Feast and Dance on the shelf for tremendous amounts of time, seems to indicate he didn’t really have any real want or desire to get back to the narrative he was creating. This is even more evident based upon the fact that when the decision had been made to split the two books up… he gave every indication that after he published Feast he already had 2/3rds of the material for Dance all set, and it would only take him another year(?) or so to finish the other book. But to then have the time between the release of Feast and Dance be 7 months LONGER than between Swords and Feast… even with 2/3rds of the book already in the can(!) tells us he just didn’t give a rat’s ass about it.
Now that this massive ‘middle book’ issue has finally been put to bed after 10 goddamn years… let’s see how quickly he gets inspired to plow into the final act of ASoIaF and the meat of Winds of Winter and Dream of Spring. If he actually has the desire and impetus to bang both of these out within a couple years each because his excitement makes him WANT to write these straightforward and straight through… that might be a good signpost about the quality of the work.
But if it takes him another 5 years to get around to releasing Winds… that’ll tell us that he’s still just writing it out of necessity and expectation… not because he has any story he wants to tell.
I think I generally agree, though I don’t think it’s because he doesn’t care, necessarily, but because he isn’t currently excited by his story for whatever reason. He may yet be again, I suppose, but he hasn’t been re-inspired yet. If he doesn’t find that inspiration, though, I expect you guys have a long slog ahead of you. As for me, I’m out.
Once he finishes, supposing he does, I’ll probably go back and read the whole thing again, but maybe not even then. I’ve said the same thing about the Wheel of Time series and the prospect of reading 15 massive novels all over again is fairly daunting, especially since their appeal to my adolescent self has me wary of how I’ll like them now.
The one advantage I have as far as finishing the series is that I don’t really read novels that often… so it’s not like I’d be spending my reading time on something else when the next book finally gets released. When it does, II’ll pick it up just because I’m curious to see how things go, and I’d have the time to read it. Since your range of reading material has much more breadth and width than mine does… you probably have dozens of different and better books to spend your time on rather than delve back into a series you’ve lost interest in.
Precisely so, Fish. My reading time is precious–I have huge amounts of stuff I want to read (and *have* to read), so I’m not going to waste my time reading something that isn’t going to satisfy. I stopped feeling an obligation to finish bad books (and, by extention, bad series) a long time ago.