Meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy! Plenty of the usual Martin juiciness in character, interactions, schemes, and events. Brutality and suffering are well in evidence, side by side with hope and sincerity.
Alas, I start to tire of the cliff-hanger formula for each chapter. I would like to follow each story line farther, with fewer interruptions. Is this device so necessary? It's typical of a modern TV dramatic series. More than five major story lines are juggled in the air, and there are some important new characters. But their coming together is still mostly anticipated.
A Dance with Dragons left me with more questions than answers. It's a giant "coming next season!" promotional trailer.
I listened to the previous books on audio book. They are read beautifully and powerfully by Roy Dotrice, with the exception of A Feast of Crows, which is very unpleasantly read by a different narrator, and should be avoided. As audio books, they are marvelously effective, although it can be challenging without the aid of maps and appendices of characters, to remember who is who. On the other hand, a superb narrator helps one get the feeling of each character, story line and situation. There is a richness of consciousness in the voice which helps one absorb the story. Roy Dotrice is phenomenal.
Beware, spoilers follow! Do not read further if you haven't read this book! I've warned you.
Just to share a few "Ahah!" and "Oy!" comments with you...
Wot, Brienne lives! But nothing more than that. Tantalizer. Is she a zombie? Was she cut down from the hangman's rope? Well, shucks, we won't know the truth of it for another few years. Sigh. Didn't we buy enough laundry soap? Ah, no, we bought too much laundry soap.
Wonderfully gruesome and excruciating transformation of Theon Greyjoy. I do like the fellow. He has weaknesses we can all relate to, and yet there is a purity about him. Poor guy. Hmm, do you think Martin was influenced by Joe Abercrombie's Inquisitor Glokta character? I'm very interested to see what becomes of him.
Gratuitous debasing of Cersei, but I start to care less about her, since she is so far divorced in time from her power plays and sexual antics. This is a problem for epics written in this manner, with many stories told in parallel, and some greatly deferred in the telling. Oh yeah, Cersei? Huh.
Nothing of Sansa or Littlefinger in this book. [Mourn.]
I suspect that Sandor Clegane has come back from the brink of death as a changed man, and is now a holy knight. But we don't know that for sure. We need that story!
Alas, I start to have problems with believability; what Tolkien called "secondary belief." Arya commits her first assassination using a poison coin. How can she be sure that this poison will only affect her designated target and noone else who might come in contact with that coin? Was this a marvelous time-limited poison? It didn't have a full enough explanation of its action for me to have confidence in it. It started to smell like a "convenient plot device." Yuck!
Many thousands of Wildlings live north of The Wall, in constantly snowy lands. Pray tell, what do they eat? Yes, they are starting to starve. Were there farms there in some areas? One cannot raise herds of animals without grazing lands. This concerns me, being a practical person, and I'm bothered that I have to explain to myself how they might have been surviving. Surely not on game alone; game is sparse. Trade with fisher-folk? Bah.
Jorah Mormont: wonderful character, but suffers from being separated from his major earlier narrative. Still, I relish his sad story. It looks like he's going to have an interesting trajectory.
I can't say there's not enough Tyrion. There's more than enough. He becomes a bit of a caricature of himself, with his wise and sarcastic inner voice. He's up to something, but we still don't know quite what. Well, I suppose we know that he wants to hook up with Danaerys and support her cause against his wretched Lannister family.
Bran arrives at his goal, and meets some strange underground fairy-folk who connect him to the Weirwoods. That is interesting.
The dragons are great, well-imagined fearsome, powerful, and untamed creatures. They are problematic in ways that people didn't quite envision. What will become of them?
There are deaths of important noble characters. And then there is Jon's probably death at the end. NOOOOO! Does he survive? Does he shift his consciousness into Ghost? Ooh.
Will Roose Bolton and his hideous scion ever get their comeuppance?