(Game Of Thrones/A Song Of Ice And Fire Spoilers up to the end of A Dance With Dragons. Anyone purely following the TV series should come back in... oh... four years or so assuming Dance is done as two seasons.)
I think the problem many people had with this novel, myself included, is the weight of expectations was against what we got in the end. This book was six years in the making and most of the plots it picks up are even older, dating back to A Storm Of Swords. I guess we all expected resolution, we knew it wasn't the end of the series but we had Dany ruling a city, Jon leading the Night's Watch and Bran beyond the Wall it felt like we were moving into the endgame.
What we got is more a transitional novel with pieces still in motion, moving towards the endgame but not there yet. Danaerys, Jon and Bran's plots all pick up with them learning to cope with their new positions rather than leading a charge from those positions. Against all those years of expectations it can be a bit of a disappointment but once I started to take the novel for what it was, an overdue and weighty transitional phase, I started to get into it.
The Tyrion chapters are a joy, of course, especially after he hooks up with Jorah Mormont which just gives us the best sort of comedy: two people who hate one another trapped together. As much as I enjoyed those chapters, though, I would bet you cash money we'll not see the dwarf mummer Penny on TV as she'll just get in the way of Peter Dinklage and Iain Glen squabbling. We might see her at Joffrey's wedding next season for the mock joust but aside from that I reckon she'll end up on the scrapheap of adaptation alongside Strong Belwas (“Strong Belwas needs milk,” best line in the novel).
The only chapters I found at all trying were the Danaerys ones not least because she spends too many of them banging her head against various brick walls: dragons that won't listen to her, enemies she can't identify, killers she can't find, a prophecy she doesn't understand, a man she can't allow herself to shag. Dany's story has always been about hardship but it's also been one of escalating victory, just look at how all three TV seasons have ended. There's also the odd way in which her plot doesn't so much end as stop. Most of the characters in this book come to some moment of resolution or a decent cliffhanger by the end but Dany (and the whole of the Meereen plot) takes steps towards resolution but stops just shy of it. Obviously this will be picked up in The Winds Of Winter but since we're years away from that even now it seemed like an odd end point.
The second half of the novel, the half that follows on from A Feast For Crows, has a few gaps. We get caught up with Arya, the Sand Snakes, Cersei and Jamie. Sam Tarly, Sansa and Littlefinger remain out of the picture, which is a pity.
The one that rankles somewhat is Brienne. When last we saw her in Feast she was about to get herself hanged. She appears in Dance hail and hearty at the end of one chapter to drag Jamie off somewhere mysterious and then she never appears again. No explanation of her survival, of what agenda she's working to or any more information on her would-be executioner. After a six year wait with that cliffhanger a little resolution would have been nice, some might even say polite.
As to the new characters introduced in this book I rather liked them. Quentyn Martel might not be as interesting as his bastard cousins the Sand Snakes but we get a good tour of Old Volantis out of his group's adventures. His story definitely meets with resolution which makes a nice difference from the other characters who find themselves in Meereen. Griff and Young Griff interest me more (yes, I know there's a spoiler warning but I don't want to say who they really are in case someone ignores it) and heartily look forward to seeing where they go in The Winds Of Winter.
Which brings us to why it took me so long to read this book: there's no sense of urgency to it. The last interview with Martin I read predicted that Winds would be out in 2015 at the earliest. I really enjoy this series, I really enjoy Martin's writing, but it is a very long book and giving someone lots of time to finish a task usually encourages them to leave it for a while hence this being probably the most delayed review of the book going.