So it took me over a year to finally finish the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series - or as it is known these days, A Game of Thrones, due to HBO's excellent drama series.
Not that it wasn't captivating, au contraire, but with serious real life issues, I just didn't get round to sitting down and have a good read, having do with a few pages before falling asleep late in bed.
The story seems to focus away mostly from the Seven Kingdoms, telling mostly the tale of The Wall and Slaver's Bay, with as the main protagonists this book Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Stormborne, dividing almost two thirds of the book between them. Other characters are intertwined, while others temporarily have faded into obscurity. There isn't much told about Katryn Stark's fate and the Jaime Lannister story arc, or for example the exploits of Littlefingers in the Vale.
Standing at 1000 pages, it does tell the story of the problems Jon Snow, as Stannis Baratheon has taken seat on the Wall before marching on Winterfell. Snow, in the meantime, decides to invite the Wildlings on to the Wall. This way he can open and reinforce the remaining the castles and increase the defences as winter is comming... and with it the 'White Walkers'.
In Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton marries an imposter Arya to claim the rights to the Stark realm, while Theon "Reek" Greyjoy regains part of his sanity and plots to escape from this monster. Ramsay has the habbit of torturing his wife, servants and all others on a whim in a most sadistical manner. In the meantime Bran, learning the ways of the Greenseer, aids him in his escapeand Daavos works secretly with House Manderly in order to retrieve Rickon Stark.
In the meantime, across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys is besieged in the city of Mereen by the Yunkai slave lords. After the fall of Astapor and the arrival of the Plague, she is forced into marriage with the noble Hizdahr. He tries to poison her though, and she is seen flying off on her black dragon Drogon. This causes the city to fall into turmoil and Barristan and the Shavepate in command, willing to take the battle to the enemy.
Surrounding this there are 3 others playing a big role in these events. Jorah Mormont has thrown his lot in with Tyrion Lannister to get to Daenerys and join her cause, but perhaps the most shocking revelation of the whole book, is that there is another Targaryen, and one that is ahead of Dany in the succession bloodline. Aegon, the babe presumed killed when Robert Baratheon overthrew the House and claimed the Iron Throne, was smuggled out of King's Landing alive. Now, together with the Hand of his dead father, he has landed in Westeros with an army of Westeros and with other houses throwing their lot in with him has started the invasion to reclaim his birthright.
In the meantime, another loyal servant, Varys "The Spider" works within the wallls of King's Landing in his subtle ways to make sure all that Cersie had undone remains undone, to weaken the kingdoms in order to help Aegon. He even goes as far as killing Kevan Lannister, who did great work replacing the fallen Cersei in consoling the relations between Casterly Rock and Highgarden to strengthen Tommen's position...
It is a fantastic read and has a couple of typical twists like the unexpected assassination on Jon Snow, last 'seen' being stabbed with daggers by some of the brothers of the Night Watch. This is the result due to on the one hand the Wildling thruce, and the fact he had received a letter from Ramsay stating he defeated and killed Stannis, caught Jon's infiltrator Mance who wasn't dead after all thanks to Melissandre's magics, and that Jon was going to lead a wildling army on Winterfell, essentially breaking the "non interference" rule of the Watch.
And with Daenarys being found again in the final chapter by the Dhroktari, in full control of Drogon, the next instalment can only be a another gem if all the big guys take to the battle and make the Stark rebellion look like a skirmish.
On his site, some preview chapters have already been posted, and George has already said it would start with the two missing 'big battles' from this book, the Battle on the Ice and the Siege of Mereen...
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