The fifth installment in Martin’s (A Game of Thrones, 1996, etc.) Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series.
Fans of the author’s work will likely be satisfied with this volume ipso facto, for it’s vintage Martin: It’s a little cynical, plenty dark, with not many laughs and, truth be told, not much action. There’s the usual blend of exposition, sometimes seemingly endless, and the usual swords-and-sorcery dialogue: “The plunder from Astapor was much less than you were promised in Volantis, and I took the lion’s share of it.” “Two kings to wake the dragon. The father first and then the son, so both die kings.” “False friends, treacherous servants, men who had professed undying love, even her own blood…all of them had deserted her in her hour of need.” Martin has been likened to J.R.R. Tolkien, but Tolkien was never quite so ponderous, and certainly not so obsessed with bodily functions of various sorts: “The Grand Maester befouled himself in dying, and the stink was so abominable that I thought I might choke.” “When you bugger a man you expect a squeal or two.” Indeed. Apart from all that, this volume furthers Martin’s long tale of a vast world war of the kind that sweeps through Middle Earth in LOTR, though some of the characters seem to have lost their taste for it; the once-scary Tyrion Lannister mostly mopes around, alternately insomniacal and prurient, while out on The Wall the stalwart Jon Snow comes over all Hamlety, wondering what to do, soliciting input and then keeping his own counsel. A few hundred pages of this, and one longs in vain for piles of headless corpses and flesh singed with the fire of dragon breath—something, anything, to induce a squeal.
Is Ice and Fire drawing to a close? There’s plenty of wiggle room for more volumes in the series, but on the evidence, one wonders if Martin isn’t getting a little tired of it.