A Feast for Crows: Book Four of a Song of Ice and Fire
By George R.R. Martin
Note: I promise, there are no overt spoilers in this post.
Trying to avoid Game of Thrones spoilers on the Internet is like trying to shield yourself from the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan two decades on. Everyone knows that Spock was going to die in the end and everyone knows A Feast for Crows is the weakest of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Or so the Internet would like you to believe.
I admit it, I had put off reading the fourth installment of the series because it has been roundly discussed over the Intrawebs that this book is the bad apple in the proverbial bushel, the weakest link in the maester's chain, if you excuse my nerdiness. If Sesame Street did a 30 second bit on the series it would the one thing that doesn't belong. If A Feast for Crows were a movie it would be Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or The Godfather III. If it were television, it would be the first season of The Simpsons. If it were music it would be post-David Lee Roth Van Halen. Hell, even George R.R. Martin himself felt the need to write an epilogue to this installment explaining why it is the way it is. Apparently he had to divide the fourth installment into two books to accommodate the entire story. Fine by me. He shouldn't apologize or explain his work. All this awesomeness came out of his head and nobody else's. He reserves the right to tell his story the way he wants. To hell with us critics, right? So what if A Feast for Crows is different.
And make no mistake, A Feast for Crows is indeed the odd man out of the series in a lot of ways. Rather than continue the stories of Bran Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister, Martin opts to introduce narratives from a host of other characters, most notably Cersei Lannister and a bunch of Vikings, I mean Iron Islanders. As well, Martin introduces a few extremely dull characters from Dorne (yawn). But seriously, if you have been on Team Cersei through the first three books, this is the book for you. A solid 40% of the book is told from the perspective of the cruelest of the Lannister clan. By the end of this novel I'm not sure whether I want to punch Cersei in the throat or take her out for a nice seafood dinner. Either way, I don't think her behavior would have been at all believable without the first hand account of why she does what she does. If nothing else, one could regard A Feast for Crows as a primer for all things Lannister.
Furthermore, by adding characters into the narrative mix Martin fleshes out the situation in Westeros a lot more. Up until now, the happenings in Dorne, the Vale and the Iron Islands, have been sorely ignored. This was the first novel in which I got the feeling that things were afoot in all corners of the realm. Though I'm going to be honest here... I'm still entirely uninterested in what is happening in Dorne. Who cares about the Dornish? They are even less interesting than the Tullys.
And despite radio silence from my two favorite characters (Daenerys and Tyrion) and a complete lack of The Others, Martin hasn't abandoned all the familiars. Sansa and Arya Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister and Samwell Tarly are all represented and their stories have progressed sufficiently. And the absence, for a novel, of Varys was refreshing. Don't get me wrong, Varys is a great character, but he's creepy and there was enough Robert Arryn and The Brotherhood Without Banners in A Feast for Crows to keep the creep factor high.
So, to make a long blog post short, A Feast for Crows isn't as bad as people say it is. It's different, that's for sure, and it doesn't follow the formula of the previous three novels and there is absolutely zero Tyrion represented (that did sting) but it's all logical progression and I finished the novel excited to sink my teeth into A Dance with Dragons. Am I glad to be over the hump? Yes. Was it as painful as it could have been? Well, if I had read this when it came out and had to wait a year for the next novel, yes, it would have been. As it stands, I can start A Dance with Dragons any time I want and that makes a load of difference.
Previous reviews in this series:
A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords