The good news? GRRM is back in fine form after the wayward fourth book. The simple reason for this is that he gets back to the characters and subplots that he abandoned in the last volume, so that we again get to enjoy the happenings of Tyrion and Daenerys while losing some of the dull and tragic stories from last time, such as that of poor Sansa, who we can hardly bear to check in with, and Samwell, whose sniveling became reader torture. God knows it's enough of a gut check for the poor reader to endure the Jon Snow saga, as dear Jonny becomes chief administer at the Wall and all of its continual barrage of starving, quarrelsome people. But this being George "I can't resist beginning 5 new subplots at this late stage" Martin, we now have new characters to contend with, such as Quentyn Tyrell, who hopes to meet Dany and woo her into a powerful alliance, and young Aegon Targaryen, who apparently has been secretly reared in order to guard against assassination and is now ready to reestablish Targaryen rule over the land.
Now for the bad news. I used to think there was this well-ordered master plan to this series of books, and that GRRM knew exactly what he was doing. Now, I'm pretty sure he's making this up as he goes - there is just way too much sporadic storytelling. For example, we get one or two sections of Davos Seaworth early in the story, and then the book just leaves it. Tyrion's story in this book also finishes in an awkward spot. The character of Melisandre is given one section in which we see into her thoughts and plans, which was terrific as she is one of my favorites, but that was it with her. In short, there are way too many pots on the kettle at the moment and the chef is doing a sketchy job of managing the cooking. Undoubtedly, GRRM has so much creative control at this point that his editors are now just his lapdogs. The dragon is off the chain and no longer responding to the whip.
All of this reminds me once again how blessed we are to have the work of J.K. Rowling, the last international sensation to publish a fantasy series, and who put together her books with such craft and care that we never knew to doubt the process. She continues to write books with such mastery of the novel's form. Someday we'll have enough historical distance to grant her place in literature's pantheon.