I finished Dance with Dragons this morning.
For all the excitement near the end, a couple of events really took the wind out of me. That last chapter of Jon Snow was the first one where I felt he made bad decision after bad decision (and this after a book where he'd been a great Lord Commander of the Watch, and been making excellent decisions), and it culminated in his death in a way that was completely unexpected to me. I hadn't been able to avoid the news that Jon Snow had died on the TV show, so I figured that was coming, but not like this. (Stupid TV show and its stupid spoilers).
The death of Quentin was expected and sad. But overall I wasn't expecting Meereen to be left such a mess by the end of the book. I thought at least some of these conflicts would be resolved somehow. Maybe the war with the Yankai outside the city walls. Or the Sons of the Harpy inside the city. Instead, it was all left hanging, which makes this book feel like much more of a dangling cliff-hanger than the first three books. More than anything, I felt Meereen was the heart of this book, so to leave this particular story unresolved is the only thing that rankles me.
The return of Varis was triumphant and really well timed. I was sitting there going "Noooo, you're undoing all of Cersei's work", when Varis came back and said pretty much the same thing. I actually did a fist pump while reading, I think.
I do love where they left the Battle of Winterfell though. It set things up for a future showdown, but it was still very satisfying, the way it all went down. Very exciting to read, and very eventful despite the snow basically smothering everything. That has got to be the most unique, best paced brilliant depiction of a non-battle battle ever. I loved it.
*Sigh. And now the Ice and Fire withdrawal begins. Should I wait for the next book, or should I start watching the TV show from Episode 1?