I wrote a further clarification about what I intend with DEM and their use in A Clash of Kings, so I’ll repost it here. It’s an attempt to explain what I personally like and why, as well trying to describe something objectively. But it’s not some kind of absolute judgement, just a personal reaction.
Magic isn’t always DEM. If a wizard has the fireball spell and uses it consistently, it’s not a DEM. But if a wizard suddenly has a brand new spell that is used to resolve a situation and is revealed right in that moment, that feels like a DEM. The writer is using the unpredictability of magic to come up with a convenient trick for the situation at hand. That’s why it feels sloppy, because it’s the writer giving his characters something specifically designed for that moment. It’s god coming into the world and making changes. It feels like a cheat and manipulation.
But, if the wizard has the fireball spell and the party only meets groups of goblins, then the wizard is transformed into a DEM-like character. Whenever they meet a group of goblins no one has to do anything at all because the wizard has the fireball spell that completely annihilates the goblins, again and again. The character becomes a DEM because it holds a power, within the specific frame, that is overblown and not kept in check. Like Khellus in PON (*). It disrupt what the story established up to that point. And that’s why I called Melisandre a DEM-like power. In that context she’s the ONLY one not to follow the rules, and the only one to have a kind of power that disrupts the fabric of the story.
Imho the problem in ACOK is that at high level the story is almost completely independent from the decisions of chapter PoVs (that instead drove the plot in book 1). They are powerless because the events are “steered” precisely through the use of those tricks. It happens at key points: Renly’s campaign, Stannis’ campaign, Blackwater, and Jon. That comprises the WHOLE plot frame of the book (minus Daenerys, but Daenerys is essentially idling for the whole book).
The characters who have power of choice and action (Theon, Arya, Catelyn) are essentially dealing with their own small space with relatively small impact on the outside. While others are passive bystanders or observers (Davos, Sansa, Bran). You could make an exception with Theon, who has some impact and is virtually untouched by DEM. In fact it’s the most consistent and genuine part of the book.
In book 1 magic has no influence on plot (the exception is the end of Daenerys PoV), but in book 2 magic grasps the most important threads of the plot and, through that strategic use, controls *everything*.
Since I do believe that Martin writes much better the realistic character drama than he writes magic, this sudden change of balance in book 2 makes me say that I didn’t like it as much as the first. But I also wouldn’t say it’s a bad book. It’s not. It’s really strong, gripping and entertaining to read. Just not on par with the first.
* I deliberately mention Bakker’s Prince of Nothing even if it seems to run counter to my argument. I like PON. You can write a story around or about a DEM if that’s your goal. But it’s very tricky and you need to be self-aware. Scott Bakker is. Erikson does this a lot, and he does it very well too. My point is that I personally believe that Martin writes good, realistic character drama but isn’t as good writing magic or meta-fictional types of layers. ASOIAF qualities, and Martin’s, are elsewhere (**).
** And yet I’m always more interesed to read Martin when he writes this specifically (Daenerys, Bran, a bit of Jon). I want to see if he can come up with something creative and that feels inspired. But I’m usually underwhelmed.