A Feast For Crows – George R R Martin
(Note: this review contains some indirect spoilers for the first three books. It’s hard to avoid them at this point.)
A Feast for Crows feels quite different from the last three A Song of Ice and Fire books. Right from the off, we’re introduced to a group of student maesters in Oldtown, a place we’ve never visited before in the books. (Does anyone ever think about what they’d end up doing if they lived in fictional universes? Because if I’d been born in Westeros, I’d probably have tried to be a maester. If I wasn’t killed somehow.) The book also takes us to other places we’ve never seen before; the land of Dorne, and the Free City of Braavos. Exploring these places in and of itself is cool: Dorne is so exotic it hardly feels part of Westeros, and Braavos would not be out of place in Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards Sequence. However, the story events in each of these areas, and the new characters we meet, are only mildly interesting. Luckily, we also get a closer look at the Iron Islands, where it looks like the stakes are about to be raised considerably higher.
As well as new places, several characters – old and new – get POV chapters for the first time. A few characters, however, are completely left out: this book has no Tyrion, no Daenerys, and no Bran. The first two are missed; the last, not so much.
This is the first book where we get chapters from Cersei’s point of view, which has positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, I like getting inside the head of this character who has been a major player from the beginning, and being able to compare her approach to scheming and playing the game to that of, say, Tyrion. There’s also an important element of her backstory revealed in this book that I found fascinating, and I would like to see where its effects on Cersei continue to lead her. On the other hand, I can’t really buy Cersei’s overall character. It’s pretty clear for most of the narration that her primary interest is her own personal power, but we’re also supposed to see her as genuinely loving her young son Tommen and being afraid for his safety. In some works of fiction, those two sides of a character manage to gel, but not in this case, particularly as Cersei tends to get rather nasty whenever Tommen dares to stand up to her. It feels like a positive quality being forced on Cersei to make her less bitchy – a bit “But He Loves His Mother” for anyone who’s read How Not To Write A Novel.
Many of the good and bad elements of the previous books are still evident here. As before, some characters’ chapters and plotlines are inherently better than others. Brienne’s chapters are pretty boring for the most part; once again, it’s just aimless wandering around – not to mention that we, the reader, know that much of what Brienne does is pointless. She’s looking for Sansa, but we already know where Sansa is; and since Brienne’s wasting her time, it feels like we are too. Speaking of Sansa, she only gets three chapters, which is disappointing – although, even though Sansa’s becoming less irritating, my disappointment is more because I want to see more of Littlefinger and some of the new characters we’re introduced to in the Vale.
As before, I most enjoy being where the action is, and quite a bit is still happening offscreen. There’s at least one offscreen character death which feels very anticlimactic unless there’s more to it than what we know, which I strongly suspect there will be. Plus there are still so many characters and names banded about that I am starting to lose track of who does what now.
A Feast for Crows still manages to be fairly compelling in places, but not much that’s particularly exciting happens. As a whole, it has an incomplete feel; most of it just feels like setup for future events. The awesome cliffhangers from the last book get limited payoff and the endings here feel a bit limp in comparison, with some characters’ plotlines getting cut off in awkward and frustrating places. Here’s hoping A Dance for Dragons is better. Rating: 3/5.