Yes, this was stolen from Liam, Head Phil. You didn’t actually think I’d come up with an original idea, did you? Anyway, enjoy. There are no spoilers, so you can read each one.
The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
So now that I’ve finished all the available ASoIaF books, it appears I’ve found a new epic fantasy to become obsessed with, one that’s almost just as great.
This book has just about everything I could want in an epic fantasy novel: Multiple interesting, realistic characters? Check. A rich, well thought out world that’s not described in page long info dumps? Check. An apocalyptic disaster bound to happen later on in the story? Check again. That’s three for three, if you were keeping track.
There were a lot of battle scenes in this book, and not a single one of them lacked tension. The first three chapters, including the prelude and the prologue*, all feature epic battles that could’ve been the climax of some other, lesser fantasy series. Despite feeling like a video game at times, I flew right through them.
The only thing that really annoyed me were the cheesy “Storm you!” curses. Yes, I understand that this is a completely different culture with different swear words and all, but I can’t stand it when authors try to replace real curse words. It never sounds authentic. I even put “never” in bold to further empathize this point. I would be reading a huge, heartbreaking scene, and then a character would shout out “Storm off!” and it would immediately take me out of the story. I managed to suck it up and enjoy the rest of the book, but still. Knock it off, Sanderson.
Also, Shallan (my favorite character) really needs to work on her sense of humor. People in the story kept calling her clever, and maybe she was, but I would just roll my eyes at her supposed wittiness most of the time it popped up. Maybe this was intentional, but another character, nicknamed Wit, had a lame sense of humor too. The jokes mostly felt like the author thinking he was clever. (And he is clever, just not in a funny way.)
(Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t understand comedy? It’s possible.)
If you’re a fan of morally ambiguous characters, you’ll be disappointed. Of the three major characters, Shallan is the only one with real shades of grey. But just because they’re not dark, gritty anti-heroes, doesn’t mean they’re not interesting in their own right, which in a world of Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, seems to be a common belief. Kaladin and Dalinar are both basically saints, considering the situations they’ve been put in, but they’re very complex saints, who are good at killing other people.
*That’s right. There’s a prelude and a prologue. Deal with it.
A Dance with Dragons, by George R. R. Martin
So here’s a list of some of the complaints I’ve seen about this book:
- “Nothing happens.” (False.)
- “Half the book is just describing the types of food.” (Also false.)
- “The quality of the series is deteriorating.” (Eh, not really.)
- “The author better not die before finishing the series.” (Well you’re just a terrible person.)
- “Martin has lost control of the plot.” (Oh shut your damn mouth.)
- “Too many descriptions of bodily functions.” (Okay, I’ll give you that.)
For the first half of the novel, some of these complaints appeared to be true. At first I was just glad to be back with Jon, Tyrion, and Dany (whose chapters I’ve been looking forward to during the entirety of A Feast for Crows), but suddenly I found myself annoyed with the sheer amount of time they were given. They got about thirteen/twelve chapters each while Davos only got four chapters, Bran three and Arya two, which sucks because Bran and Arya easily had some of the best chapters in the whole series.
I wouldn’t have minded if not for the fact that both Tyrion and Daenerys’ chapters weren’t nearly as interesting as they used to be. For the first five hundred pages or so, Tyrion was a shell of his former self, wallowing in self-loathing, making the occasional misogynist remark and generally just being no fun to read about. Even the interesting stuff surrounding him wasn’t enough to keep me engaged. It wasn’t until the second half that Tyrion actually became likeable once again.
Daenerys, meanwhile, had the most frustrating storyline, for reasons that should become obvious while reading it. Luckily, her storlyine picked up speed in the second half, including one incredible badass moment (that I can’t wait to see the HBO series adapt) that almost makes everything worth it.
The reason for the lull in the first half, I think, is because of the aborted five year jump. Martin had originally planned to skip five years after all the crazy shit that went down in A Storm of Swords, but decided against it because he would’ve needed too many flashbacks. As a result, The entirety of A Feast for Crows and the first half of A Dance of Dragons were just the author filling in that gap. And once that gap was finished (When you start seeing A Feast for Crows POV characters pop us) is when things start moving at the speed you’d find in the first three books.
Though I still love the series and can’t wait for The Winds of Winter, there were still a lot of problems with this novel. Mainly, the POV chapters. A lot of them could’ve been cut out, or just condensed to a single paragraph. Quentyn’s first two to three chapters were pointless. So, (arguable) were Victarion’s. Jon Snow’s first chapter added nothing,, and a lot of Dany and Tyrion’s early chapters should’ve been edited down. I miss the first three books, where important events were occasionally allowed to happen off-screen.
Despite it’s flaws, I loved it like Daenerys loves her dragons, though it wasn’t much of a novel. While the first three book all made terrific novels when taken by themselves, A Dance with Dragons and it’s predecessor were really just one big chunk of the story, with no real climax or resolution.
And I don’t get why some people think it’ll be impossible for Martin to wrap the series up in two books. A Dance with Dragons ends with multiple story lines about to converge and a whole bunch of major, groundbreaking events, so it’s going to be very, very hard for The Winds of Winter to not be amazing. Assuming the next two books have about the same pace as the first three, the series can easily be wrapped up in the planned seven volumes.