Here I am, about two months since I started the journey of A Song of Ice and Fire, and I'm finally caught up with it all. Along the way, I've heard good and bad things about the series, but I think I was fortunate enough to be able to read them all back-to-back (to-back-to-back-to-back) and get the full story all at once, instead of having to wait five years or more between volumes. It reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with someone who was just beginning to read Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, and not understanding why people complained so much about the cliff-hanger ending of The Waste Lands; what he lacked was the perspective of six years between that book and Wizard and Glass. Though, now that I've caught up with the story, I might start feeling some of that frustration again.
I've enjoyed this series so much more than I expected to. The length of the books, the complexities of the plot, and the cast of characters put me off at first, but I've come to enjoy all the twists and turns that make up the overall story. A Dance with Dragons didn't disappoint, with its hidden princes, Machiavellian power plays, and surprise endings combining to make a powerful story. It seems like the series is poised to make its way into its conclusion (and judging by what I know, there are just two books left), but every book sort of has that feel to it, so who knows? With the reveal at the end of A Storm of Swords, it seems like there could be another five volumes telling the tale of what happened before this saga.
And since I've covered the point-of-view chapters in my other reviews, I may as well touch on them here, too. Most notably in this book, we finally get to see things from Melisandre's point of view, which wound up being pretty telling. Martin portrays her as someone who is obviously supernatural -- her eyes glow red in the darkness, and she gives birth to shadow assassins -- but a part of me kept thinking that she was using tricks to manipulate Stannis into a position of power. There winds up being a small bit of trickery involved (she hides powders in her sleeves for certain effects when used in fire), but that one chapter shows that she really is a priest of R'hllor, with all the powers that she claims to have. I find it interesting that it took a POV chapter to convince me of her abilities, despite the fact that the book is also full of wights, giants, wargs, and whatnot, but I also feel like it's because Martin does such a great job of making this more about the politics and setting than the fantasy. I put that sort of thing out of my mind as I read the books.
Much has been made of the tenuous connection between Jon Snow and Azor Ahai, the hero prophecized by R'hllor to free the world of the Others, and I have to say, I'm inclined to agree with that theory. The strongest indicator, to me, is Melisandre's comment, "I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, but R'hllor only shows me snow." I hadn't known of the theory that Jon would be Azor, but once I read that line, I looked up the theory and found a good bit of discussion about it. It seems to be in line with what Martin has done with the rest of the series -- a hidden prince, an unknown bloodline, and those who know the truth are dead -- and I look forward to seeing how this will play out over the rest of the story. In fact, that's really the major point that I want to see resolved. With the rest of the Stark clan dead, missing, or in hiding, Jon is the most honorable of all the main characters, and it would make sense to see him as the savior of the entire series. Of course, the way his story ends here, it's hard to imagine that he could save even himself, but Martin has proven before (once in this very volume) that no character is dead until he shows you that he's dead.
That being said, I noticed also that the only character to get her own point-of-view chapter in every book is Arya Stark. Granted, books four and five should be considered a single volume, when looking at that aspect of the series, but it does make me wonder if Arya will be the one to make it all the way to the end to take up the throne of Westeros. Given her character development, though, that seems unlikely.
I'm fascinated with the series, and am looking forward to seeing where the remainder of the story will take us. I hope it won't take another seven years to get it.