A Dance with Dragons, By George R R Martin

Long, long ago, in a faraway land where nothing much happens...

Readers of this review will fall into one of two groups: those who have seen or heard of the recent HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones and are wondering why this classic scabbards-and-skulduggery fantasy has gone mainstream (and whether they should be a part of it), and those who have read all of the previous novels in the cycle and are bursting to know if the latest instalment lives up to expectation. After all, A Dance with Dragons comes in at well over 1,000 pages and costs £25 – for either group it's not a commitment to be taken lightly.

Set in a fantasy world reminiscent of a medieval Eurasia combined with a fiendish computer game and a Timotei advert, George R R Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice novels have been collecting awards and taking up residence in the bestseller lists ever since the publication of the first, A Game of Thrones, in 1996. But this year, the combination of the TV adaptation and the mainstream success of the Kindle has meant that everyone – even those who were once too scared to read a Terry Pratchett on the Tube – is now surrendering to their urges. George R R Martin is huge.

A Dance with Dragons was originally supposed to be the second novel of a trilogy, but the situation has now spiralled to the point where it is the fifth of a planned seven novels, the third of which was split into two physical books on account of its sheer weight. Running concurrently with the events of the previous novel, A Dance With Dragons focuses on two of the most interesting characters from earlier books: the aristocratic but rebellious dwarf Tyrion Lannister, and the headstrong yet perceptive queen Daenerys Targaryen.

Tyrion is in hiding since killing his father and being suspected of killing his own brother, while Daenerys is queen of a city and the proud owner of some completely out of control dragons who are marauding across kingdoms and causing her seemingly limitless grief. (The powerful eggs of book one are now one of her biggest problems.)

While the dialogue is as snappy and the sense of place as powerfully evocative as in the other books, there is alarmingly little actual action here. Worse than that, it becomes increasingly hard to keep up with the cast of characters, the landscape of the kingdoms and the references to previous novels. Read alone, this is a story that would make very little sense indeed, and even those committed to the Seven Kingdoms have quite an admin job on their hands if they want to stay abreast of the ever-shifting perspectives and characters. This may be fun if you read the novels as a kind of project, to indulge in alongside the board games and the chatrooms. But as far as old-fashioned storytelling goes, it is not a success.

It seems that the problem lies in the editing: as with J K Rowling, the past decade's other break-out fantasy writer, editors must have been increasingly torn between treasuring every scene and insight that a much-loved author has delivered, and hacking into years worth of work to create an accessible, readable narrative which the curious might enjoy. Given that this manuscript was only delivered in April, the pressure must have been particularly intense. While there is much for the most robust of fans to wallow in here, A Dance With Dragons is perhaps a book that tries to please all kingdoms yet doesn't quite please any.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits