With George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons (Canada, USA, Europe) only a few weeks away from being released, I felt it was time to go through A Feast for Crows. God knows the book has been awaiting my attention for a while now.
Can't believe I hadn't read it yet!?! Know that I own every single ASOIAF installment in hardback and each volume was bought as soon as it came out. I even have an ARC of A Game of Thrones. For more about how I was able to exercise such self-control, read my reviews of A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords. Trouble is, now that I'll be reading A Dance With Dragons as soon (or perhaps sooner, if I'm lucky) as the rest if you, I will be forced to endure the waiting game for the release of The Winds of Winter.
Although A Feast for Crows debuted at number 1 on the NYT bestselling list, the book failed to live up to expectations. Moreover, the long wait for its release spawned a lot of resentment among GRRM fans, and many felt that this fourth volume was quite a letdown. All of which engendered quite a few detractors and GRRumblers.
Truth be told, however, I don't think that A Feast for Crows had a chance of ever living up to the lofty expectations created by the incredible A Storm of Swords. The third volume turned out to be one of the very best fantasy books I have ever read, raising expectations through the roof. When George R. R. Martin and his editors finally elected to split the novel in two and publish A Feast for Crows, it was evident that half the story couldn't possibly do it for all the rabid fans eagerly awaiting the book.
To this day there is a decidedly negative vibe surrounding this novel, one that is a bit undeserved. Mind you, A Feast for Crows is without a doubt the worse installment in A Song of Ice and Fire. No question about it. But in my opinion it has a lot more to do with just how great the first three volumes were than how supposedly bad the fourth volume turned out to be. And let's not kid ourselves here. An ASOIAF book that fails to live up to the collective high expectations of GRRM fans around the world is still better than about 80% of speculative fiction offerings on the market today.
Oddly enough, I feel that it's the choice of POVs that sort of killed the book for many fans. Granted, at the time the decision was made, everyone involved in the process were under the assumption that A Dance With Dragons would see the light the following year or thereabout, so disgruntled fans wouldn't have to wait long to read about Jon, Tyrion, Daenerys, and the rest of the ASOIAF characters we love or love to hate. Nevertheless, one has to wonder exactly why these popular protagonists were left behind to appear in the next installment. Doubtless, switching the Greyjoy story arc for Jon's, or the Dornish storyline for that of Tyrion would have created a much better balance between A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons. In the end, having no choice to settle for Brienne instead of Daenerys and Samwell instead of Stannis was sure to breed resentment. Compound that with the years it took the author to finish A Dance With Dragons, and that makes for some understandable discontentment.
Here's the blurb:
It seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears. . . . With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King’s Landing. Robb Stark’s demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist—or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out.
But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead.
It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes . . . and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.
On the worldbuilding front, this book unveils much depth and details, giving us numerous glimpses of just how little we know of Westeros and the countries beyond the Narrow Sea. Especially the Greyjoy, the Dornish, and Arya's story arcs, which introduce us to various locales, all with their own history, traditions, and people. This is probably my favorite facet of A Feast for Crows.
Politicking is one of Martin's strong suits, and only Katherine Kurtz comes close to him in that department. Politicking has always been at the heart of the series, what with every power player playing the game of thrones and all it encompasses. Problem is, there is such a thing as too much politicking in one novel. And that's where I believe A Feast for Crows lost some readers. Though politicking has been a major part of every ASOIAF installment to date, events and "fuck me" moments continuously kept us on our toes, forcing us to shake our heads in disbelief, shocked that Martin could do what he had just done. But A Feast for Crows is more about politics than anything else. First with the Greyjoy storyline, and then with the Dornish one. Jaime's arc is more or less just about handling the situation in the Trident, Cersei's about the politicking in King's Landing as she assumes the regency. Sansa's plotline focuses on Littlefinger's manipulating the lords of the Vale. All in all, only Brienne, Arya, and Sam's storylines are different, yet they act as somewhat of interludes between the politicking featured in the rest of the book. And that's the novel's principal weakness. There is a total absence of fireworks. It sets the stage for a lot of things to come, yet in and of themselves the story arcs contained in this book fail to satisfy the way those of past installments blew our minds. Again, I'm left wondering why some of these plotlines were not switched with those of other protagonists, which would have hopefully brought more to the dance (no pun intended) and help create a better balance between the various and disparate arcs. We all know that GRRM is juggling a vast number of balls at the moment, so I'm a bit perplexed by the choice of POVs that were selected for this one.
The characterization is top notch, as usual. That some of the protagonists are not as appealing or fun to read as others has nothing to do with Martin's writing. Brienne will always be dull compared to Tyrion, but it's not because her character is not as well-defined or fleshed out. I relished the opportunity to finally get into Cersei's mind. I have always known that she was a manipulative psycho bitch, but I never would have thought that she could be so stupid. She certainly isn't the first monarch filled with delusions of grandeur, and her son's murder affects her in a profound way, but it was kind of weird to see her make basically every single wrong decision she could possibly make. I was looking forward to learn more about Arya and what GRRM has in store for her, but her storyline was more of a tease than anything else. I wish she could have enjoyed more air time in this one. Martin deserves some credit for making me hate Sansa even more. That took some doing, to be sure. I would have thrown both her and Lord Robert off the Eyrie! I kind of love Samwell and I was glad to see him journey to Oldtown to study, but man was this storyline drawn out too much. Jaime, on the other hand, though he doesn't dazzle the way he did in the previous volumes, showed another side of himself, demonstrating that he is much smarter and politically inclined than we thought. Brienne storyline, like Sam's, was drawn out to a degree that made it boring at times. A few chapters less might have been for the better, especially since the whole point was to get her to appear before Lady Stoneheart.
What has been perceived as one of the main weakness of A Feast for Crows is that there appears to be too many POVs now that we have reached what most feel could be the critical point in A Song of Ice and Fire. Interestingly enough, my favorite storylines of the novels were that of the Greyjoys and the Dornish nobility. Not only did they bring a new perspective on the dramatis personae and the events from both the past and present, but they also offered unanticipated twists and surprises that no one could have perdicted. Yet as much as I enjoyed both arcs, throughout the book I kept wondering why such seemingly important protagonists and plotlines were being introduced at this point. Will they continue to be POVs in the last three volumes, or will they be relegated to occur behind the scenes and/or through the eyes of already established characters? For if that's the case, could it not have been done that way in A Feast for Crows? There is no telling how important these two plotlines could be when you consider what it taking place across the Narrow Sea. Only time will tell if they deserved such a big chunk of A Feast for Crows. . .
I felt that A Storm of Swords, for all its 973 pages in hardback, was plotted and paced close to perfection. There was not a dull moment throughout, which I still have a hard time believing. Sadly, the same cannot be said of A Feast for Crows. Brienne and Samwell's plotlines especially, could have been trimmed a bit to quicken the rhythm of the book. Sansa's POV as well, though her scenes were few and far between. The absence of any fireworks at the end sort of robbed readers of the habitual payoff George R. R. Martin usually has in store for them, and hence perhaps tarnished the overall reading experience to some degree. Still, let us not forget that A Feast for Crows was essentially the first half of what was meant to be one single work. And though we don't yet know exactly what GRRM has in store of Jon, Daenerys, Stannis, and the rest of the characters not appearing in this book, A Feast for Crows nonetheless sets the stage for a lot of great things to come. One only has to look at the culmination of Cersei's story arc to know that things in King's Landing will get worse before they get better.
In the end, regardless of its shortcomings, A Feast of Crows remains a good read in its own right. God knows that it's far from being the sort of lackluster effort that Robert Jordan's Crossroads of Twilight turned out to be. I believe that the book's biggest sin could be that it can never aspire to the "classic" label that its three predecessors have garnered. The odd choice of POVs and an uneven pace will always relegate the book behind the first three installments. And with only a few more weeks to go before A Dance With Dragons is published, ASOIAF fans will soon learn whether or not the long wait was worth it.