George R.R. Martin is back on his game with this fifth volume in his A Song of Ice and Fire saga. He wastes no time in bringing us up to date on the charismatic characters, such as Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, who were missing from the fourth book, a pale effort compared to the previous three. This book follows those characters and then, in the final third of this very long tale, it brings together many of their stories with some of those that we came to know in the previous book. The paths of the stories converge and one begins to see the faint glimmer of an outline of how the saga may go from here on out. I believe there are at least two more volumes planned and A Dance With Dragons certainly leaves enough loose ends to fill them with their conclusions. We can only hope that we will not have to wait as long as fans of the series waited for this book (six years) before The Winds of Winter, #6 of the "Songs" is delivered to us.
Jon Snow, the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch has more than his hands full here in trying to rebuild the Watch to full strength as he faces the challenges of pitiless beings that inhabit the land of ice beyond the Wall and threaten the realm of men. The Night's Watch is sworn to guard the Wall and protect the Seven Kingdoms from the creatures beyond it but Lord Snow knows that the Wall is only as strong as those who guard it. It is his burden to try to rebuild that strength while surrounded by enemies on all sides including some within the Watch.
Within the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the battle for the Iron Throne goes on. The throne is occupied by the child Tommen Baratheon, but who will be the power who controls Tommen? Meanwhile, his uncle Stannis Baratheon continues to claim the throne and marched with his army all the way to the Wall to assist the Night's Watch in repelling the wildlings from the north. Then he turned south again to try to retake Winterfell, now held by the execrable and unspeakably cruel Boltons.
In the east, Daenerys and her army have swept through several cities, freeing slaves wherever she goes. She has stopped in Meereen, where she, too, is surrounded by enemies and beset by those who would bend her to their will. But hers is the blood of the dragon, and oh, yes, she does still possess those three dragons, and who will dare to dance with them?
Daenerys is believed to be the last of the Targaryens, and yet, now, we learn that there may be another. And is there, just perhaps, a third, a bastard who also possesses the blood of the dragon? I have begun to suspect that there may be. But now I'll just have to wait along with everyone else to find out for sure.