Today is July 12, 2011. An auspicious day for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, which nonreaders may know better as the first-season-just-ended-to-great-acclaim HBO series Game of Thrones. The fifth novel in the (planned) seven-volume cycle, A Dance with Dragons, arrives today, after a wait of seven years.
The story’s author, George RR Martin, has created a bit of a monster with this series, and I think he’s beginning to realize it. A Song of Ice and Fire goes well beyond the normal fantasy trappings while managing to keep most of them in place. Inspired by the Wars of the Roses in fifteenth-century England, Martin has spun up a world and history so fascinating, so rich, so intricate, and so detailed that actually writing it has become almost impossible. With each novel weighing in at 1,000+ pages and the cast ballooning to over 200 major characters, reading them is no picnic either. The story and quality of writing is excellent, but it’s work – it really is! – to keep track of it all. In fact, if you want to get the most out of these novels, you should prepare to read them more than once. You will miss things otherwise, things that add such nuance and vibrance to the reality Martin has created that you’re doing yourself a disservice as a reader to miss them.
So work, but fun work.
As more and more years have passed between the release of each novel, Martin’s fans have divided into two camps: those who want the book but sympathize with the author, and those who want the book and do not sympathize with the author. I belong to the former group, for as much as I look forward to each new release in the series, I see it as something that’s being done for me, and I shouldn’t gripe too much. Even when people complained about the change in tone of the previous novel – A Feast for Crows, released in 2005 – I didn’t mind. Feast would be the hardest book in the series to write, as he’s essentially resetting the chessboard for the second half of the game.
My brother Marcus has pointed out that the entire span of his increasingly successful career as a novelist (five books, dozens of shorts, four movie options, a TV show, countless events and signings) can fit comfortably in the yawning space between A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Marcus is also very strict about how he deals with fans, and at one point during the long wait Mr Martin committed what Marcus considers the cardinal sin: he lashed out, sarcastically and rudely, at those who’d been complaining loudest. At the time Marcus said “Not to the fans. Not ever.”
In this I side with my brother, even as I understand how frustration can get the better of you. It’s like emailing while drunk: don’t do it. You’ll regret it. Even if you don’t, you’re risking something.
Still, with all that said, and however you feel about George RR Martin for taking this long to pen the fifth book in the series, it is out now in much of the world and will be out soon in the rest of the world. My Kindle is sucking desperately at its little WiFi straw even now, so A Dance with Dragons will be ready when I am. Naturally the book arrived during one of the busiest weeks I’ve ever had. I have to work when really all I want to do is read my new book. Irony.
Of course, as Martin has noted, his fans read a lot faster than he writes… which means I’ll soon be done with Dance and the wait will begin anew…