You know you're totally hooked on a series when a book really ticks you off, repeatedly, and yet you can't put it down. I keep trying to read more slowly, I really do, but it's almost impossible.
Issues: Well, I probably should have gone back and re-read "A Storm of Swords" and "A Feast of Crows" again just before starting this -- since AFoC happens pretty much parallel to ADWD, immediately following ASoS -- it can be sort of difficult to put yourself back into the story and remember what happened when/from whose viewpoint. My quarrels with this book are:
a) Martin is adding more and more characters just when he should be narrowing the focus somewhat (which means more people and relationships to keep track of - just what this series DIDN'T need.)
a-1) Additional complications: did we really need a resurrected Prince Aegon and the Golden Company?
b) Tyrion's compulsive repetition (at least initially) of "where do whores go?" and his visions of his father in the privy. See, this is where I really could have used a refresher on the story immediately prior to this, because although I *knew* this was all happening shortly after Tyrion killed Tywin, it wasn't fresh enough for me to empathize with his state of mind. Also, if we're being set up for a tearful reunion with Tysha, I will be sickened.
c) WEAK fake-outs. Martin totally got me with the reveal in ASoS that the veiled woman traveling with Tom O' Seven and his compatriots was Catelynn. This time, he tried to do a little of the same sort of thing with "the knight" who snagged Tyrion at the brothel, and "Reek" - but there were too many hints and allusions that quickly revealed exactly who each of them was. And anyone who was as surprised as Tyrion to discover that Jorah was taking him to Dany rather than Cersei just wasn't paying attention. Also, Asha Greyjoy is not dead. Martin pulled that same end-of-chapter, fade-to-black thing when Sandor Clegane clocked Arya in the head with an axe in ASoS - I bought it then (and flung the book across the room in fury and despair), but Martin's used that "not dead" trick so many times that unless someone is absolutely, demonstrably killed dead, I know we'll see them again, and I'm not just talking about Beric Dondarrion or the wights, either.
d) Just overall, things are tooooooooo drawn out. I'm very clear that Ramsay Snow/Bolton is evil, Roose Bolton is just as evil but better at hiding it, Reek/Theon has been tortured and will do just about anything to avoid more of the same, and Wyman Manderly has something up his sleeve. Yes, Dany has at least one hard decision to make, and she won't sleep well no matter which way she goes. Uneasy lies the head, etc., etc. And Drogon is probably going to appear at an opportune moment and roast the guilty (oh, and yeah, probably a good number of the innocent as well.) Could someone remind Mr. Martin that the point is not simply to exceed the page count of the previous book?
Having finished: 1000+ pages and pretty much nothing got resolved. I thought this volume was a lot more violent and gruesome than previous books in the series. Complications layered on complications. More fakeout deaths or near-deaths. And if Martin has killed off Jon Snow, I may never finish the series. I've always felt that the books were really Jon's story, for some reason, like he's the heart of the books.
I've been spending some time at Westeros.org, the extensive fan site for the books, and there are some fun theories about how things will shake out/what the story is behind certain characters - like that Rhaegar didn't really kidnap Lyanna Stark so much as run off to a little lovenest with her and make a baby - namely the aforementioned Jon Snow. Which would have been the promise Lyanna made Ned Stark swear to as she lay dying. And Jon was taken to Winterfell to be raised in secret, so that he wouldn't be killed as a threat to Robert Baratheon's throne.
My other favorite theory is that "Coldhands" is actually Benjen Stark, who went out on a ranging near the beginning of AGoT and hasn't been seen since - that he has been killed and turned into a sort of wight, except not evil, or somehow been brought back to life a la
Dondarrion or Lady Stoneheart.
We'll see. You know I'm going to finish the series, right?