Taking a bit of a break to finally put down some thought's after finishing George RR Martin's "A Dance with Dragons". What follows will be copious spoilers and a discussion of the book so read no further if you don't want to hear mention of what went on.
Spoiler Alert…. you have been warned…
Overall I enjoyed the book but it lacked something for me and convinced me even further that the author has lost the thread of the whole thing. I think technical aspects of his writing are top notch and the whole thing came off as an incredibly polished use of language, but overall the story lacked the animus of the other books. Perhaps this can be attributed to a normal second act lull but it's hard to feel that is an adequate summary. I didn't feel there was much the way of character development, aside from Theon anyway and I struggled with that not being very interesting.
Having had far too many years since seeing Jon, Tyrion or Danny I thought their story was wholly inadequate and rather flaccid. Danny sitting around lamenting the difficulties of leadership and her aloneness, Tyrion lamenting his lot in life and being enamored with his own cleverness, Jon alone with is burden of duty and not being understood by others. I feel like we've done all that and in some cases I thought we were past that, at least I know my interest was, so it was hard to feel there wasn't a retrograde of the character arcs here and made the book feel a bit meandering.
That said I'd rather meander with these characters than most others, but still the overall lack of momentum increased the feeling that started to creep in with Feast for Crows. That the author has lost touch with something that made the earlier works so good.
The high focus on Jon/Danny/Tyrion and the brief mentions of other characters also made me feel the pace of the whole story is just off somehow. I felt this strongly when Feast for Crows was released and this book just confirmed that for me. Arya, Jamie, Cersie has such brief mentions that I have to wonder why bother with it at all. Sansa was completely absent from the story which threw the pacing off even more and I have to wonder if I'll care about the story arch at all if it's 10 or 13 or so years between the mention of a character.
Uneasy feelings caused by pacing problems and vanishing story arcs are exacerbated by the seeming random addition of confusing or distracting story Arcs. I mean, what was with that whole Griff story arch? Rheagar's little boy is still alive? What purpose does this really serve? I didn't feel like it increased the drama, I didn't think it added anything interesting to the story. Was this suppose to be their "I AM your father" moment? if so it failed completely for me and just felt like a distraction. What about Davo's Story? What was the point of any of that and will I care 5 or so years from now when the next book comes out? What was the point with Stannis, Asha, any of them?
The last complication to it all was the overall creepy nature of the Reek/Theon and Ramsy story. Was this some kind of attempt by Martin to outdo himself? I have no idea but overall it went way past the mark to the point that it made it all seem a bit contrived and silly to me. Why did I care about ANY of that? What did it lend to the story? Is this the attempt to set true villains apart from the the normal shades of gray in the world? With Jeoffery gone I suppose they wanted to bring someone else in that would make me feel could be a satisfying death, but it got so far past silly that I find it hard to be that emotionally invested in the character.
I know I'm being pretty brutal here, particularly for someone who overall enjoyed the book. I think though I'm starting to see diminishing returns for my investment of time in the series though and as Martin wants to spin up the marketing machine for GoT on HBO while taking the "I'm on artist and it will be done when it's done" approach that I think he's not living up to the space he seems to want to carve for himself as the "American Tolkien".
I hope to see better in the future but if this continues I think all we're going to end up with is the typical Fantasy series that started out great but got worse as the books progressed. I hope I'm wrong though, by the Seven I hope I'm wrong.