First Published: 2005
Pages: 852 including maps and character-lists (Paperback)
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #4
As always with this series even the blurb is spoilerific for the previous books so everything goes under the cut.
Crows will fight over a dead man’s flesh and kill each other for his eyes.
Bloodthirsty, treacherous and cunning, the Lannisters are in power on the Iron Throne in the name of the boy-king Tommen. The war in the Seven Kingdoms has burned itself out, but in its bitter aftermath new conflicts spark to life.
The Martells of Dorne and the Starks of Winterfell seek vengeance for their dead. Euron Crow’s Eye, as black a pirate as ever raised a sail, returns from the smoking ruins of Valyria to claim the Iron Isles. From the icy north, where Others threaten the Wall, apprentice Maester Samwell Tarly brings a mysterious babe in arms to the Citadel.
Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory will go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel and the coldest hearts.
So I caved in and gave up on reading each book just before the corresponding TV series started. It was working well for me but eventually I got fed up of people who thought they were being subtle spoiling big events: ‘ooooh, I don’t want to ruin anything but wait til you get to the Red Wedding!’ Fuck off. I mean seriously, stop it, it’s not subtle and mysterious, you’re just being a twat. Anybody with a brain can work out that the term ‘Red Wedding’ signifies a massacre at a wedding feast and then use basic logic to guess at the wedding. Thankfully not many friends do this to me, but I encountered enough people who thought they were being really enigmatic by blatantly giving away key plot points that I decided to just read ahead so they would stop annoying me with their ‘I know something you don’t know’ twattery as if they’d been inducted to the cult of Cybele or something.
Anyway, book four of A Song of Ice and Fire picks up almost imediately after book three. And there my main problems with this book start. Martin’s initial plan for the series was to include a several year timeskip between books three and four – and you can really tell . Book three rounded most of the characters plots off to a point that made it perfect for a timeskip – Arya was setting off for Bravos, Sansa had escaped kings Landing, Jon had been elected Lord Commander, Joffrey had been replaced on the throne by his brother Tommen and, most crucially, Dany had decided to put off her invasion of Westeros and get some Queen-ing experience over in Myreen. It was ripe for a bit of off-page development and a ‘five years later’ type introduction. Martin’s plan went awry, however and was forced to continue straight on from the previous book instead. This means that things developed a bit too fast for my liking. Cersei’s plot – which is really the meat of this volume – should have been one of slow-burning political machinations spanning years but instead seemed rushed and squeezed in to just a few months.
In an effort not to scrimp on showing any of the characters, Martin has also split the narrative in two with A Feast for Crows catching up with only half the cast and the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, showing what’s been happening with the others. This means that fan favourite characters Tyrion and Danny don’t appear at all in A Feast For Crows. Given that I find Danny’s chapters the worst with their over sexualisation, exotification, and marked reliance on fantasy clichés when compared to the other chapters, I didn’t particularly mind losing out on those. And Tyrion gets the best chapters only by having the best supporting cast but is quite an annoying character on his own so again, I wasn’t fussed. I did miss Bran and Jon though. After all, I am much more interested in what’s happening at and beyond the Wall than I am in Danny’s boobs or Tyrion’s cock (who could probably get chapters to themselves by this point).
So I was mourning a couple of characters I’ve enjoyed since the first book when A Feast for Crows introduces a whole slew of new viewpoint characters on me, the Greyjoys of Pike and the Martells of Dorne. And partly due to their newness and distance from the main Westeros plot and partly due to the naming convention of their chapters I found it difficult to get into these characters. Instead of their chapters being titled ‘Arys’ or ‘Asha’ you get ‘The Soiled Knight’, ‘The Kraken’s Daughter’ and such – all of which rather invites you to see them as narrative devices rather than major characters or players in the Game of Thrones. Although I came to quite like the Martells and their scheming for revenge and rebellion, I found the Greyjoys plot line fairly dull. I assume it will be important later, but it’s hard to care about it.
The meat of the story, though, is Cersei’s and for the first time Martin gives us Cersei viewpoint chapters. As a Cersei lover I was both looking forward to and dreading this because Cersei worked so well in the first three books when other characters could only guess at her thoughts or motivations. And yeah, although I still love her I was kind of disappointed with her viewpoint chapters and how quickly she lost her grip on things after Tywin’s murder. Most of this, though, comes from aforementioned squeezing down of the timeframe. As Littlefinger lampshades ‘I never expected she [Cersei] would do it quite so fast. . . I had hoped to have four or five quiet years…‘. It’s about what I would have expected as well at the end of book three. The rapid development of Cersei’s plot just feels too fast to me, while I could perfectly see it happening at a slower pace. They’re still some of the best chapters in the book, due to being the main Kings Landing ones but it all just seems a bit too much too fast.
Other characters such as Sansa, Arya, Brienne and Samwell all put in appearances as well, but the plot of this book is definitely about the political landscape of Kings Landing, Dorne, and the Iron Islands. Other chapters (although I loved Arya’s) really do come across as removed interludes to main meat of the story, essential for the plot of A Song of Ice and Fire, but not for the plot of A Feast for Crows. Martin did some interesting things with the Stark girls, playing with their sense of identity now that they are both in hiding and disguised, but most of Samwell and Brienne’s chapters often felt unnecessary with plot points dragged out over two or three chapters that could have easily been done in one. This was the other pacing issue with this book, while previous instalments in the series may have been long there always seemed to be a point to every chapter, book four feels a lot more aimless.
That said, and I know Ive been pretty critical, I enjoyed this book. Martin’s prose is still not great and occasionally terrible (the prologue is, just as in the last book a real struggle to get through) but once I got used to it it was a very enjoyable and compelling read. It’s not as good as previous books in the series, but that doesn’t make it bad either. I do hope, though, that when book six finally comes out with all the characters back together again, that the series will return to Storm of Swords quality.