A Feast for Crows


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
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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.

Winter is coming. . .

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

21 commentaires:

Adam Whitehead said...

I think GRRM has commented on why he went with these characters and not the others: by early May 2005, when the decision to split was made, these characters - Jaime, Cersei, Brienne etc - were the ones whose chapters he'd completed. Jon, Tyrion, Dany, Davos and Bran's chapters weren't finished, and even bringing one of those story arcs to a conclusion to fit into AFFC would have taken many more months of work. So they went with what they had.

As strong as AFFC is in some areas, it is very much a compromised novel where practical problems pressed in on it and dictated a lot of things about it at the expense of more creative solutions. I do wonder if part of the reason for GRRM's perfectionism over ADWD has been a desire not to do the same thing again. I guess we'll see in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

The PoV's were picked because those were the ones he had finished. Jon's, Bran's, Dany's, etc weren't complete. Plus he decided he wanted to cut it geographically and give us what was happening in King's Landing, the Iron Islands, and Dorn. He could have just kicked out the Iron Islands and given us Dany, except Dany wasn't complete and then the story wouldn't have balanced at all since her plot has literally nothing to do with what's happening in King's Landing, while the Iron Islands do.

Plus it might be hard to remember but after ASoS, which is the end of the first real act of ASoIaF, GRRM was going for less of an event novel and more of a look at what's left after the destruction of the previous three. Thus the title, A Feast for Crows, picking on the rotted scraps of what's left after the war.

It should also be remembered that originally there was going to be a five year gap after ASoS, and then he'd pick up the action, but GRRM decided not to do that because important events were happening in those 5 years, and it read better giving us that rather than jumping it to the next war.

AFfC needs to be read as the calm after the storm, not the next big event. It was never meant to have the same kinds of twists that were in ASoS, and I believe that when the series is complete it will read much better. Was it disappointing to fans who were waiting for another Red Wedding? Certainly. But that's not what this book was ever about.

-Marten

Davieboy said...

"The third volume turned out to be one of the very best fantasy books I have ever read" - please point out the better ones.
Read AFfC again, and then again - tons there that's wonderful.

Anonymous said...

My problem with Feast for Crows had nothing to do with any of the things you mentioned. I read all the books back to back, and when I started Feast, I though that it read like it was written by a totally different author. I didn't think it was bad, I just thought the prose sounded so different, to the point I wondered if it was ghost written. Now I don't really believe that, of course, it was just weird.

Anonymous said...

The Katherine Kurtz comment is spot on.

Russ said...

Neither here nor there, but since someone above brought it up- I believe we will all rue GRRM's decision to scrap the 5 Year Gap that would've moved the story further along.

I just hope he has the stamina to finish what he started.

Mosh said...

I wish he had just used Feast to tie up the couple storylines that weren't quite set up for the 5 year gap, then go ahead and follow through with it.

It just worries me that after three books he has had to make such a huge structural change in the story. I enjoyed Feast though, and I'm sure I'll enjoy the rest of them.

Anonymous said...

Do you really have to say "winter is coming" every time you mention these books? Getting old...

Jeb said...

Whover pointed out the Pat-scale is a genius:

7
7.25
7.5
7.75
8
9
10

Martin Keamy said...

@ Davieboy - I would put Memories of Ice ahead of A Storm of Swords, and Pat might too since he's a big Malazan fan.

Elfy said...

Good, extensive, objective review, Pat. I still can't believe it took you until now to read AFfC, though.

ST said...

(haven't read the book since it first came out so my memory of it might be a bit off…)

Pat (or anyone),

With regards to Cersei's POV, do you think she that was always paranoid and out-of-touch w/"reality" or that this is a more recent development in her character?

Nate said...

ST,

I think it's a combination of both. I think she was always paranoid and out of touch with reality, but throughout books 1 - 3 she had her family to rely on. Much as we know now she wanted to be independent, I still think having Jamie there and Tywin to help with the decisions took away from some of her crazy. With Jamie abandoning her, Tywin dead, and the loss of Joffrey, she has completely lost touch with reality and gone batshit crazy.

I think a lot of people are disappointed with that transition of Cersie, because they never read her POV in the first three books so there is the assumption that she was cold and calculating. But I think had we had a POV from her in those books, we would see her making some mistakes and being hella paranoid, albeit not nearly to the degree we see in AFFC.

That's what I took from it anyway.

WIll said...

I think some of the hate for Sansa is getting less justified. I liked the direction her storyline took in AFfC, and I really hope that she grows up a bit in Dance.

Anonymous said...

The whole book felt by and large like a fleshed out prologue. It did nothin to propel the main story arcs, focused on a lot of tertiary characters and felt like a whole lot of filler (well written filler, but still filler). Too meandering and distracted and in hidsight I think we all would prefer teh "5 year gap".

-Paran

drey said...

Excellent review, Patrick. You hit my main issue with AFfC, namely my absolute favorite characters' POVs were missing or way too short. And your thoughts on Cersei and Sansa mirror mine. I can't wait for A Dance with Dragons, and am re-reading the series (slowly!)... :)

Alastra said...

Thank you, Pat, for giving us a balanced, well-reasoned review of AFfC. I myself went into this book with much of the excitement and anticipation established by A Storm of Swords (definitely the best in the series) and felt myself completely let down and disappointed by the book.

You struck upon some of the nagging details I'd never quite been able to verbalize: the shifting PoVs, and the lagging plot and pacing.

I realize this book is a bit of a breather after the disastrous, spectacular events of ASoS. The pitch and speed change, which isn't so much the problem as it is spending far too much time with a few people that are just inherently less interesting than the rest of the cast we came to rely upon. I knew going in that Dany, Tyrion and Jon's chapters were going into the next book, but I never expected such a lengthy Jean M. Auel-style gap between one volume and the next. I've invested myself so deeply into those PoV characters that their absence struck me as a disappointment which the wait has only made worse.

But you're right, AFfC is a slog at points. Brienne is an intriguing character, but chapter after chapter I found myself resorting to skimming through.

Anonymous said...

This book grows on me with every reread. It is a post-war book, coming after major upheavals.

The first time I read the chapters I felt like clawing my eyes out at times at the pacing and lack of favorite POVs.

Each time since I am drawn into the opportunity to look at characters who were secondary in the previous three books.

The pace of the novel is something I've come to enjoy as well. It reads like the eye of the hurricane, a chance to go deeper into the setting itself before we charge onward to the great battle to come.

Anonymous said...

How about Benjen??

Bill said...

Pat, I felt the same as you after the first read, more or less (though Sansa, to me, became more sympathetic).

But after some time, I reread the whole series, and I found that AFfC digests better on the second or third reading.

At that point, no longer seeking clues for the favored characters, one is able to appreciate the worldbuilding, the nuances and hints contained within. It was the rereading that made me realize how good this was.

Yes, it's slower by comparison to the first 3 installments, as well it should be, all things considered.

I think if you get a chance to reread it, you'll have more than a few 'aha' moments with the overall story arcs.

Goofilin said...

Years later I read the book. I had read the first three books back in the day and reread them now that we have the TV series so as not to fall further behind in discussions and what not.

Needless to say I was aware of Martin's decisions pertaining this book. Coming into it with lots of these comments already read and thought about I must say I adored this book. Story-wise it might even become irrelevant to the series, but I think this tome will be the one that gives the world flesh and soul. It is like reading The Sun Also Rises after reading any book about WWII... it makes it human.

LOVED IT!!!


David H