Since this is the fifth book in this series, some amount of spoilers is to come, regarding the earlier stories. But I'll do my best to keep it as, umm, vague as possible.
Basically, before reading, I was aware that there had been a lot of rant and whining to be heard about "A Dance With Dragons". Leaving aside the fact that people had to wait for some seven years for Martin to complete it (since the last published book), there was complaining over the pacing, contents, characters, and whatnot. Great! I thought. Means it will likely be right up my alley :p
It was important to make some tactical decisions beforehand. For reasons highlighted (in red) on the following photo:
|A four-digit number *faint*|
Tactical approach was needed to deal with this one without burning out. Earlier experiences with Martin's "bricks" (albeit, none quite as "brick-ish" as this one) have taught me. Since these novels are seen/narrated through eyes of different and reapparing characters in different locations, readers develop their preferences. Like, I want to sprint through the chapters of my favourite characters (Jamie, Tyrion, Brienne come to mind) but when I get to the ones I don't enjoy as much (Daenerys), it can be difficult to pick the book up again.
So, a plan formed. Three chapters a day, no matter what. No more, no less. Discipline - that should work. And I must say, until about page 700+ something, I kept up excellently. After that I couldn't resist and read more, until the end. But it was a good plan and helped to avoid the possible burnout.
Even though Martin loves to chop off the heads of his characters with not as much as flicker of a finger, we are still in a situation where there are, maybe, too many characters and viewpoints by now. This can be very confusing at times, but also enjoyable. The schenanigas and plotting has spread all over the map and we get tossed between the hot-hot Free Cities and the Seven Kingdoms, which prepare (more or less) for the upcoming cold. So it is a lot to take in.
SPOILERS INCOMING NOW!
Daenerys is still playing home in the warmer parts of the story. She wants to be "good" but doesn't quite realise the consequences and relativity of that notion. Some of it was painful to observe and I had the urge to punch her in the face and send her overseas more than once.
I hate this, thought Daenerys Targaryen. How did this happen, that I am drinking and smiling with men I'd sooner flay? /p. 769/
But she did make me laugh, once:
You are the blood of the dragon, you can make a hat. /p. 1087-1088/
What I did appreciate a lot was the tidbits with the dragons. It was refreshing to see that part described, well, "realistically", in lack of the better word. Sure, when they are small and still babies they are cute and cuddly, but when a dragon grows up, it should take a lot to keep it under control. And that is what happens. They are dangerous. Daenerys has some control over them, but not in the manner of "you-do-what-I-want". More in the lines of that she is the only person who they cannot harm. But dragons have minds of their own, and their growing up causes a lot of smoke and ashes.
Tyrion is still funny, but his chapters can become slightly annoying, because nothing really happens. Except up until the end. He gets a new companion (who this time is no-one to likely do the work of blood for him), but I suppose next book(s) will show if it will lead somewhere or not, so far their relationship remained vague and questionable.
Meanwhile, on the Wall... Jon Snow has some tough decisions to make, and there are... consequences. I shall not dwell on that any longer. I got into a rage-mode once during a Jon-chapter.
Cersei has done a good job sawing the branch upon which the whole Lannister lot is sitting and the sentence "A Lannister always pays his debts" gets quite a new meaning in this book :p
I think I was most captivated with the story of Reek this time. You got to give it to Boltons... they did manage to pull out a lot of emotion from me. Havoc among this house is among my most anticipated things to happen in the next books.
Ah, Arya Stark... who is still part of the bizarre cult-religion where she was left off the last time. Since the beginning of the previous book I had the feeling Arya is being built and prepared for something big; that "big" did not arrive now, so I am really wondering what part she will have to play in all.
It made me sad not to be able to read a word about Littlefinger and his new "stepdaughter", but then again, maybe the pile of characters was getting a bit too high...
END OF SPOILERS.
I enjoyed "A Dance With Dragons" probably more than some previous books. It is slower, and I never been into super-fast-action-twists-turns-and-curveballs-every-five-minutes kind of stories. The chapters where not that much happens actually give me time and space to ponder over the whole story and straighten my thoughts. Like in life, some "characters" are more relevant for you, some not that much. I do get where the complaints are coming from, but I guess I am lucky to see things a bit differently, and therefore get more enjoyment out of the story.
I doubt there is any knowing when Martin might finish the next book. Even likely I may get into the phase of re-reading the whole series before it happens :)