Part of that, I am sure, is that this and the previous book were supposed to be one that grew, and grew and split into two parts. But while A Feast for Crows felt like the ominous pause before the storm, one book of pause was enough. Two is self-indulgent and undercuts all the tension.
I am not knocking George R.R. Martin's writing! I always enjoy it, the complexity of his characters, the breadth and depth of his world. But I do have a few specific gripes. Specifically, I'd like to see him stop (or at least use with more discretion,) the following tricks. Because they have become just tricks.
1) Once in a while, when someone sets out to go someplace, could they bloody well get there? Having people be waylaid on the way and diverted from their eventual destination is one thing, but never having anyone get anywhere they're trying to go? It's gotten to the point that as soon as we cut to a chapter where someone is travelling, I know they're going to get kidnapped, enslaved, attacked, or otherwise prevented from getting to their immediate destination.
Sometimes this works. Other times, it seems like having someone actually freaking get where they're going would be the more interesting option. I personally think that Tyrion getting to Dany and seeing what would happen then would have been far more interesting than three successive setbacks.
If I'm ever in Westeros, remind me to travel between the chapters.
2) Stop ending chapters with a character under attack and apparently dead. This worked the first few times you did it, George, because it created suspense. But you've gone to the toolbox for this particular wrench far too many times. Three out of four times, they're not actually dead. And you've done this in every single book, and at least four or five times in A Dance With Dragons alone.
It no longer creates suspense. It now creates, in me, at least, a weary resignation. Well, that person might be dead. But I can't trust it, so no point in getting worked up. This seems to be the opposite of the reaction you are going for.
3) I love your wide casts. I do. I don't even mind you introducing a few new important characters every book. But at this point, someone needs to exercise some goddamn editorial control and tell you to dial it back. There are now too many characters, and the problem is that they're slowing the story down.
Let's take the Sand Snakes, for example. I actually love the Sand Snakes. I would like to see an entire book about the Sand Snakes. But in a story already jampacked with characters? Not to mention the rest of the Martells, their household staff, and envoys to Dany? TOO. MUCH.
If they're that cool, plan another book just about them for later. You can't pack every neat idea you have into these books, because they're becoming unfocused. I like meandering, but this is becoming meandering at the expense of story. And you're damned good at story, so get to it!
I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees