I finished book five, now I'm waiting for all of my fellow fans to catch up so I can talk about it without spoiling it for them. Come on you lazy laggards! Catch up already!
I love this series, the HBO version of the first book, Game of Thrones, was awesome as well. It's funny how, after having read 4 books of the series and then watching the HBO take, I now have the look of the characters that I saw on HBO in my mind instead of the, admittedly vague, appearance I gave them in my mind when I first read about them.
SPOILERS BELOW S P O I L E R S BELOW
So, now that I've warned everyone not to peek if they don't want to be "spoiled" in their reading I can say that what I loved about this latest book in the Ice and Fire series is the way several of my most "hated" characters got what was coming to them. Note, this is not a plot summary but just a short list of some small bits of A Dance with Dragons that I really enjoyed:
Most satisfying was Cersei's march, shaved bald and stripped naked, through King's Landing as penance for her sins. A penalty imposed by the new "fundamentalist" High Septon after he had her arrested in the last book. In the upcoming book, to be released in 50 or 60 years if Martin continues his blistering writing pace, there will be a trial by combat with Cersei's champion being some undead giant zombie dude. :-)
Second most satisfying was the fate of Theon Greyjoy who became "Reek, rhymes with weak and sneak" Theon Turncloak, who betrayed the Starks, is tortured into gibbering insanity by Ramsey Snow/Bolton. Sadly by the end of the book Theon has partly regained his mind and, at least temporarily, escaped from the Boltons.
Less satisfying but still amusing is Tyrion Lannister's being captured by slavers and forced to ride the pig in jousts with one of the same dwarfs that had been at Joffrey's wedding. By the end of the book he's escaped slavery, sort of, to join up with one of the "Free Companies"
Jon Snow continued to bumble his way along as Lord Commander of the Wall until he finally pisses off the old timers too much by bringing the Wildlings through the wall and settling them in several of the ruined and abandoned castles. The last we hear of Jon in this book he is falling to the ground having been stabbed in the gut and in the back by his own men, he may or may not be dead. With Martin you never know. :-) Even being dead doesn't necessarily knock you out of this story though, as we discovered with Caytlyn in the last book.
Stannis may or may not be dead as well, Bolton claims to have wiped him and his army out but that was in a letter at the end of the book and there is no way to tell yet if he's telling the whole truth.
Arya is now a full acolyte of a cult of assassins, having killed a man on command and not for her own reasons. She is one of the sadder characters at this point.
Daenerys Targaryen continued to hem and haw and dawdle in the slave city of Meereen because she didn't want to abandon her freedmen followers. She marries the wrong guy in order to make peace with the Harppy and with Yunkai. Her new husband then, we think maybe, tries to poison her, the big black dragon who had escaped shows up for the big celebration and fries a bunch of Yunkai who were there to celebrate the end of the war and Dany jumps on his back, her hair on fire, and they fly off not to be seen again until the very end of the book where we finally find her barely alive wandering the Dothraki sea living on scraps from her dragon's kills.
A new character is Aegon Targaryen who was Rhaegar's son and was supposedly killed during Robert's rebellion but was actually secreted away by Jon Connington and raised across the narrow sea and trained for kingship from birth. For a while he was trying to get to Dany to join with her but in the end he heads for Westeros on his own with an army to claim the throne. He hopes to marry Dany, who doesn't even know he exists at the end of the book.
Quentyn from Dorne shows up wanting to marry Dany, but she's already committed to her Meereen noble who is going to try and kill her. Quentyn decides that since he's part Targaryen he should be able to control a dragon, he breaks into the pit where the two captive dragons are held planning to steal them and gets himself charbroiled as a result. The dragons escape and torch one pyramid in the city and set up housekeeping on two others.
Whew, that's enough for now, it's a fast 1,000 page read!
So, really I enjoyed the book but nothing much really could happen in the way of moving the full story forward because this book is parallel to the previous book, A Feast for Crows, and not actually following it chronologically. At the end we are almost in the same place in time as we were at then end of the previous book. This is a little frustrating but I knew that was going to be the case going in.
I really hope that George RR Martin gets the next book out in less time than it took to get this one out! Six years between episodes is way too long!