Next week is going to bring an embarrassment of riches for fantasy fans: Not only is the final Harry Potter film premiering on Friday, but the latest installment of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series—A Dance with Dragons—finally drops on Tuesday. Martin only finished the manuscript a few months ago, but longtime fans of the series have been waiting for this installment, some with less grace and goodwill than others, for years now.
Amazon Germany accidentally released 180 copies of the massive book early, leading to a flood of spoilers on fan sites. Now, however, the first official reviews are starting to trickle in. And the general verdict: It's really, really good—worth both the wait and the weight. (Seriously, we have a copy here in the office, and as someone who's only read the books on a Kindle, the thing terrifies me.)
Time's Lev Grossman says that his 2005 anointment of Martin as "the American Tolkien" remains spot-on: "Martin has produced—is producing, since the series isn't over—the great fantasy epic of our era." In many ways, this fifth volume is the best of the series so far, and Martin's become an even better writer than when he started. "If you're watching A Game of Thrones on HBO, you're foregoing the great pleasure of Martin's deft prose," Grossman writes. But Martin's also at the height of his plot-structuring abilities. Grossman, a great champion of genre fiction (he's got his own fantasy novel out this summer), offers a riposte to readers who'd sniff at toting around a book with a dragon amulet on the cover:
Martin will never win a Pulitzer or a National Book Award, but his skill as a crafter of narrative exceeds that of almost any literary novelist writing today. Throughout the book I was reminded of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (which did win a Pulitzer), as well as Anthony Powell's (similarly floridly titled) A Dance to the Music of Time. But even Powell can't twist a plot like Martin. A Dance with Dragons is a big book, topping out at 1,016 pages, but it turns on a dime.
The Daily Beast's Jace Lacob is similarly enthusiastic, upping Grossman's Tolkien comparison with a Machiavellii reference, and also arguing that the book may be Martin's finest yet. He notes there are some narrative bumps in the early chapters (due to the fact that the first half of Dance takes place at the same time as the action in Book 4, A Feast of Crows), but that, overall, the book is "unrelentingly ambitious and suspenseful." Publisher's Weekly, meanwhile, looks ahead, noting that the book's "heart-hammering conclusion hints that the next installment will see a return to the fiery battles and icy terror that earned the series its fanatic following."
Not up to speed on ASOIAF yet, but craving a good, fat, genre novel to take to the beach this summer? Check out Brow Beat readers' suggestions here.