A song of Ice and Fire: request for a non-spoilery evaluation of book 4 and 5

And then I guess they have to discuss endings with Martin in total detail to end the series, since the books will obviously not end before 2020.

it didn’t seem spoilery to me, but OK.

My least favorite thing about reading Martin is that his attention to detail, which helps create a universe at first, gets REALLY. DAMNED. OLD. by the fourth book. I don’t give a Smith and Maiden’s dam how the quail that Tyrion is eating was poached in cider (and then a description of the next nine courses) or how Daenerys’s gown is exactly thus shade of green with exactly this shade of copper trim and that shade of white beads, or what color a horse is or how elaborate the window on a ruined castle is or how much bird shit is on a paraticular rock; just get to the point of the scene and tell us what happens. Detail is for when you don’t have 1,872 major characters (oops, 1,874- forgot the last chapter where you killed off one and added three more) in three dozen different plotlines to get through. (Imagine lots and lots of asides that are the written equivalent of Tyrion’s spiel about Cousin Orson and the beetles.)

Also, I really like characters like Jamie and the Hound and Stannis and Varys who are not all evil and not all good and in fact you can have a debate as to whether they’re ultimately a hero or a villain. Characters like Joffrey and Ramsay Snow-Bolton, who are pretty much one dimensionally Bond-villain-as-scripted-by-George-Lucas evil, are boring. Others may disagree, but it seems to me that the characters become less complex as the books go along.

Books 4 and 5 are much slower in terms of actual things happening. A large part of this is because Martin originally intended there to be a five-year gap between Book 3 (A Storm of Swords) and the next book (The Winds of Winter), then decided a five-year timeskip would be a bad idea and he should fill in the middle. Thus, it’s a bit easy to see why the stuff that happens inbetween isn’t too earth-shattering if he was originally going to skip it.

The other problem is that it seems apparently that his editors were taking a nap. There’s a lot more repetitious phrases (“as useful as nipples on a breastplate” shows up once in the first three books I think, and it’s funny, but then it shows up about 5 times in the next few books and it gets trite), non-cute changed words (such as “nuncle” instead of “uncle”) and just overall seems not as tightly written.

There’s also a LOT of new characters introduced, as the plot starts to reach new areas in the far reaches of the world (and new players take the place of all those killed in the last few books). I personally found the Iron Islanders quite interesting, the Dornishmen less so, and every new character in Essos entirely forgettable.

Having read the series after all 5 books were published, I like 4 & 5 fine (caveats that the repetitive phrase thing is real and annoying). However, I can see how if I’d been waiting years and years, book 4 would be a giant WTF.

Myself, I do like such detail. I felt it helped draw me into the universe of the book.

Again, count me among the lovers of books 4 and 5. I was a little sad when I came to the end of the series to date but am glad I (probably) won’t have to wait years and years for the next installment.

Book 4 is where I said “Fuck it” and quit reading the series. Gave away my hardbound first editions and washed my hands of the whole affair. By that point I didn’t see any reason to continue, it had disgusted me so much.

Almost everyone’s MMV.

I refer to A Feast for Crows as “A Feast for Editors”. It’s enormous and bloated and not much happens and it is rich in the unpleasantness that is Westeros society. I couldn’t talk myself into reading the next one.

I enjoyed the books (4 and 5) on a page by page level - I like GRRM’s style. It’s apparent early on, though, that things have gone pear-shaped and he’s lost his grip on the overall narrative.
Splitting the thing into two, contemporaneous, accounts is as bad an idea as it sounds and is made worse by some truly leaden sections. This is quite frustrating to read as it sits at odds with the ‘moving the pieces round the chess board’ idea of the books’ structure. It seems, at times, that he’s not doing that at all, just making things worse by adding more bloat.

The development of Danaerys’ story in book 5 was a real nadir for me - felt implausibly slow moving and tedious. That was my first impression, at least - I’ve not reread it.

There’s probably triple the plot advancement in A Storm of Swords as there is in books 4 and 5 combined. Book 4 in particular doesn’t have a lot happening. I don’t think the prose is any worse, just not a ton happens.

That being said, my favorite set of chapters in any of the books is probably in book 5.

Let me guess (not spoilers, but boxed anyway just in case):

They involve a really fat guy?

Those were some of my least favorite.


I think we may be thinking of different fat guys – I realize now that there are multiple fat guys and I was far too vague. The fat guy I’m describing is in Reek’s chapters (and also in Davos’ chapters).

I really don’t understand the criticisms of “nothing much happens”. Things are CONSTANTLY happening in Martin’s writing style, it’s not like he spends an inordinate amount of time describing landscapes, languages, and songs, like Tolkien. I think when people say “nothing much happens” they simply mean not enough time is spent in the storylines they are invested in, which usually ends up being Stark/Lannister conflict. The story has pretty much moved beyond that by book 4.

Martin brings in completely new characters and regions in book 4 and builds some backstory and lots of things DO happen to those new characters, but since it’s not the plotlines people are already invested in, they read a long and interesting story set in Dorne or Iron Islands and conclude “Nothing happened!”

I will retract my criticisms if Martin pulls out an epic conclusion which makes all the (apparant) pointless padding and tangents pay off.

Here’s the thing, though … if you, as an author, have envisioned this grand, sweeping, mega-volume epic of a fantasy, and you’re four books into it, what you DON’T do is introduce new characters, spend a large chunk of book 5 telling us their story, and then kill them. That’s beyond pointless, because it doesn’t advance your story at all.

Why not? Introducing new areas, new character, and having their story arcs MAKE the narrative into more a grand, sweeping epic. In that a lot of epics tend to be very narrow - focusing on a small group of people. This epic expands the view.

FWIW, I love Dorne and all the chapters on it. I also really liked the Iron Islands. I enjoy the world that has been created probably more than anything else.

Why not? Because you’ve spent 20 years writing four books that have firmly established your plot, scope, and direction. You’ve got millions of fans clamoring for the next book in your series. And then a big part of book five deals with a character you’ve mentioned in passing once or twice in book 4, who then dies. And fans are left wondering “What was the point of that?”

It’s one thing to have a sweeping epic with a huge cast of characters who are introduced over time and interact … it’s another thing entirely to introduce a character 70 percent of the way through your story, explain to us why we should care about him, and then kill him. It serves no purpose.

The death of one character from one of the new storylines/regions does not mean everything else building up to that is pointless. First, sometimes death completes a story arc. Second, there are still lots of other characters and plotlines impacted by that death. The entire point of the X region’s story was not the destiny of that one singular character. (avoiding spoilers here) That’s just one part of it.

We don’t know that yet though. That particular character was part of a plot to align a certain Westerosi great house with Daenerys, and when that plan burned up, we don’t know what the fallout will be, or much else.

Books 4 and 5 had a lot going on, although there wasn’t a lot of resolution or major plot bombs like the Red Wedding, Ned Stark’s execution, Tywin’s death, Joffrey’s murder or Tyrion’s trial/trial by combat.

Books 4 and 5 most resembled Book 2 (“A Clash of Kings”) I thought- lots of stage setting, and moving around, but not a lot in the way of battles, deaths, etc… Just Renly dying was about it.

I suspect that GRRM’s writing plan must alternate books with momentous happenings with books that deal with the aftermath and set the stage for the next momentous happenings book.

But when he split book 4 into books 4 and 5, it looks like we got 2 huge books of stage-setting and piece moving with no momentous happenings. I suspect Book 6 will be a different story.