And this is why you shouldn't commit to writing multi-part books without a detailed outline, at least.
The book is not terrible, as such, but it's the weakest link as far as the storytelling goes. Hence the rating. There were a few good parts, but they didn't get to stand out that much because they were surrounded by a pile of mud.
Also, I've gotten older and my range expanded. When I started the series, it was a brand new first translation and first pseudo-medieval fantasy I had access to that didn't look like it was aping Tolkien. I liked it because it was close to historical fiction, with politics sounding more plausible. But innovation can only take you so far.
To Martin's credit, though, unlike most serial writers, he doesn't seem to be stretching things out in order to milk the cash cow. He genuinely bit off more than he can chew. He wrote himself into a corner - a Meereenese knot. Time gap presents another problem, and it's more than fannish frustration. A filler book like this might work better if there was a year or so in-between. But for people like me, who have had to wait seven years for the next installment, it doesn't work that well. A lot of things will get forgotten, and if there is nothing to get you interested and invested in characters again, it's just dull.I daresay even the greatest enthusiasm will wane a little over that long a period, particularly if there isn't much to be shown for it.
I have long-standing problems with series of any sort, and I blame them largely on the lack of foresight. Writers write the first book and believe they will be able to follow up. This arrogance has been a downfall of many.
Now, the best thing about this book for me was that it refreshed my mind and reaffirmed my opinion, which began to waver in the face of fresh criticism that came due to its rising popularity thanks to the TV show.
First, that Martin is not a horny teenager in old man's body, but simply a very visceral writer. Borderline naturalist, I daresay - but this is not a style that is often associated with genre fiction and is not that often seen in contemporary literary fiction either. It's not just infamous food descriptions - the scents, the temperature, the very air characters breathe is described, not technically but in a way that makes you think you are there. Scenery is described in much more vivid detail than any sexual encounter. I won't call it a sex scene because they're not. Just read a mature romance novel for comparison. Yet it is a known fact that due to censorship and taboos in a part of Western world, first thing a large part of the audience latches on will be sex. Martin, perhaps, put it best:
"I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it's madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure. Axes entering skulls, well, not so much."
As far as my own literary background goes, I often found sexuality of same if not greater level in literary fiction of my own region (and South America too), and I don't think anyone cried "foul". Sexuality is a part of character's life, and when author actually goes as far to include eating habits and even disposing of bodily waste, skipping it would seem ridiculous. It's not usually done in genre fiction, but should departure from the usual generic style really be discouraged? Yes, a lot of times sex scenes in genre fiction do feel tacked on, but sexuality in ASOIAF feels organic.
If you really want to delve into Martin's motivation, I refer you to Mark Monday's Excellent Tongue-In-Cheek Astro-Freudian Analysis. I suppose you could make a case that us Virgos are all raging perverts under dignified exteriors - if you are brave enough to base an argument on astrology.
Another thing that I got reminded of is great unreliability of each narrator, that extends to self-delusions. Therefore, I feel secure again in my opinion that Dany and Khal Drogo's "love" is as much a truth as "men don't cry" or "catamites are unnatural". That is, it's the truth as far as the POV person is concerned, but not necessarily an objective one - if there is, indeed, such thing as objective truth. But it's definitely not meant to be a fact.
Which is not to say different opinions are wrong. It's just that mine are now reaffirmed.
I will not drop this series. I pray that the end will not be premature.