Review: “A Feast For Crows” by George R.R. Martin

Title: A Feast For Crows
Author: George R.R. Martin
Series: A Song Of Ice And Fire, Volume IV
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Bantam, 2006

Four down, one to go! Until The Winds Of Winter gets published, at any rate. If A Storm Of Swords is hailed as the best entry in the series so far, A Feast For Crows often holds the opposite distinction. I can understand the position, probably wouldn’t argue with it, but would point out that this simply means it’s a four-star entry in a five-star series. Obviously this will contain all sorts of spoilers from the previous books. You’ve been warned!

Chaos reigns across Westeros! King’s Landing mourns the deaths of both its young king Joffrey Baratheon and his Hand Tywin Lannister, both allegedly slain by the imp Tyrion Lannister. In the wake of losing both her son and father, Cersei Lannister grows only more irrational and paranoid, seeing schemes and plots everywhere as she attempts to rule Westeros in the name of her younger son Tommen. This paranoia and stubbornness serves only to alienate her few competent allies, until all that stand with her are cronies and lickspittles. Jaime Lannister has returned to King’s Landing a changed man. Losing his hand to the Bloody Mummers and all the verbal sparring with Brienne seem to have reinvigorated his sense of honor to some degree, enough that he strives to honor the various oaths he’s taken and repay old debts, insofar as possible. He’s sent Brienne off to try and find Sansa Stark and get her to safety, and released his brother Tyrion from the black cells beneath the castle in the dark of the night.  Given the choice, Jaime would stand beside his sister and help mitigate her incompetence, but Cersei has sent him off to try and capture Riverrun. Sansa Stark is clinging to what little safety she can find, having escaped King’s Landing with Littlefinger’s help and now posing as his bastard daughter at the Eyrie. On the Iron Islands the Ironborn meet to choose a new king, one who will likely determine their fate once and for all. In Dorne, the news of Oberyn Martell’s death has excited the region to the brink of war, while dangerous plots surround Myrcella Baratheon and her protector. Across the Narrow sea, Arya Stark has found her way to Braavos and joined the Faceless Men as a novice in their order. On the Wall, Jon Snow has been named Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch due to the machinations of Samwell Tarly, and soon dispatches Sam south to Oldtown to train as a Maester and research the Others in the Citadel’s library.

Reading A Feast For Crows is a study in mixed feelings. On the one hand, I did really enjoy most of it on its own merits. On the other hand, it doesn’t measure up to its predecessors. However, this is completely understandable due to the behind-the-scenes awkwardness of this novel. First off, it was never supposed to exist. Originally, Martin planned to pick up the story five years after the end of A Storm Of Swords in order to give some of the younger characters time to age a bit, filling in the relevant information from the interim with flashbacks. He eventually abandoned that idea, but it’s a good indicator that this particular book is going to be more about laying groundwork for later events than it is major events themselves. You know how Martin likes to leave a character at a semi-cliffhanger, then pick them back up later and fill in what happened with a quick summary? Quite a bit of this book’s plot could have been handled in such a summary. Which isn’t to say that it’s disposable, by any means, as that same material is leveraged brilliantly to add further flesh to the varied cast of characters we’re introduced to, most of whom have been overshadowed in previous books by more prominent characters. This segues into the other awkward element of the book: it’s missing what are commonly accepted to be the three strongest characters in the series. In the writing of what became this and A Dance With Dragons, Martin realized that what he had was too massive to publish as a single book. Instead of chopping his manuscript in half chronologically, he opted to do it geographically. A Feast For Crows is focused on King’s Landing and the Riverlands, with Samwell Tarly and Arya Stark thrown in for good measure, while A Dance With Dragons focuses on events on the Wall with Jon Snow, across the Narrow Sea with Danaerys, and Tyrion on the run. All well and good, but those are the three fan-favorite characters, and they’re entirely absent from this book. Not really too big an issue for me, since I can pick the next book up as soon as I clear out a couple books with pressing deadlines, but for fans that had to wait six years to find out what their favorite characters were up to I can understand that frustration. Bottom line: while this particular book was a slight step backwards in quality, I still recommend the series as a whole, of which this is an integral part.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, not gratuitous, but not rare either. Rampant, disturbing violence, from hangings and decapitations to occasionally more grotesque fates, including not-infrequent reference to torture. Again, a fair amount of sexual content, including topics such as incest, rape, underage sex, and prostitution. Not really rendered in gratuitous detail, but often frankly and/or crudely discussed. The magical elements of the series are somewhat minimized here, as they are happening mostly far from the beaten track we stay on for this book.

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