In a move that will no doubt confuse and bewilder longtime fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin has released a chapter from the next book, titled The Winds of Winter, just months after the release of his latest book, A Dance with Dragons. You can find the excerpt on his blog here.
If you are a recent fan of Martin’s series—and thanks to the HBO series A Game of Thrones, many of you now are—then you are in for a potentially bumpy ride, filled with horrors and heartbreak. There will be some exciting moments interspersed with the terror you feel for the characters, culminating in a bittersweet sense of loss and longing—not because of the content of the books, but rather the seemingly unbearable wait between books.
Martin is an excellent and award-winning author, but no one would mistake him for being fast. The original book in the Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones, came out in August of 1996. The second and third books, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords respectively, each came out two years later, but then the drought began.
For those that didn’t pick up the books until recently, you are lucky SOBs. There is a sense of camaraderie between fans that waited for the fourth and fifth books. It is a feeling of mutual suffering that we wear as badges of pride. Nary will you come across someone that began the books years ago without soon hearing them tell you that they were fans form a long time back. Even if they don’t come out and say it, you can see it in their eyes, “the horror, the horror,” they seem to say.
For the lucky few that missed it, the gap between books three and four was a grueling five years long. But it wasn’t just bad because there are some cliffhangers at the end of the third book. It wasn’t just bad because the entire world the books are set in was shaken badly by events in the third book. It wasn’t just bad because there is an entirely separate plotline that has barely been scratched but will inevitably become the driving force of the series. It was bad because of two factors: Martin was constantly contradicting himself in terms of updates, and Robert Jordan died.
Robert Jordan, the writer of the epically long The Wheel of Time series, did two things that fans will never fully be able to forgive him for. The first is that he began to drag his series out. There is at least one entire book in the series that you can skip and not miss a single important moment. After 15 years, he was on book 11, and there was no real end in sight. Then he did something even more awful. He died.
Jordan left the series unfinished, and as tragic as his death was to fans that felt a personal connection with the author after years of reading his works, it was crushing for fans that had been with the series for a huge portion of their lives to know that Jordan would never finish it. It may seem unfair to hold a grudge against Jordan (because it is unfair), but it is hard to feel good about the series that was a massive hit but seemed like it would never have been concluded. Thankfully for Jordan, his memory, and the fans of the books, Jordan left more than enough material to finish the series, a task which fell to Brandon Sanderson and will be concluded in 2012.
But back to Martin, who after years of double talk still hadn’t produced a fourth book that was known to be titled A Feast of Crows. He initially said that the problem was that the fourth book was so big that he needed to split it in two. Fans were fine with that until it turned out that the fourth book featured B-list characters for the most part, all carrying out minor tasks that didn’t further the overall plot.
Fans of Martin’s blog will no doubt recognize this sentence, or a variation of it: “Finished another chapter today, making great progress!” If that were true and Martin finished a chapter every time he claimed he did, the fifth book would have been close to 67,000 pages long and destroyed most of the Amazon to create paper for it to be printed on.
Six years we waited for book five. Babies were born and grew in a world that didn’t have a Martin release. Senators came and went. 1,051 generations of house flies lived and died in that time, until finally, mercifully, A Dance with Dragons, arrived. And it ended in a damn cliffhanger.
At his current pace, Martin will release the next book in the series in 2016, long after HBO has either sued him, or sent armed thugs into his house to “encourage” him to write. Alternatively, there is the very real possibility that HBO may just decide to write their own story to carry on the series if Martin can’t keep up.
A Song of Ice and Fire is said to end at seven books, making the next offering the penultimate book in the series. That seems… unlikely.
But for as frustrating as it has been to be a Martin fan, he is still producing some of the most exceptional fantasy literature on the market today. Just look at the incredible reception to the HBO adaptation. So we wait, and most of us will pre-order the next book, then devour it as soon as it is available, whenever that is.
The new chapter expands on two semi-major characters that may or may not have met their fate in the previous book. If you haven’t read the fifth book, this is not the place to peak. And while it is nice to see a new chapter, it is hard to shake the feeling that it was released solely to appease fans who are worried that Martin is nowhere near completing the sixth book. Martin was said to have been finishing A Dance with Dragons as early as 2008 and chapters were said to be completed, but then the delays began to mount up.
So even with the potentially long wait, and even with the potential that this chapter may be all we see of the sixth book for years and years, it is hard not to be excited that we have a bit more of the story.