A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
One of my fellow travelers on my trip to Ireland was Kate, who is pretty awesome. During the run-up to the trip, I talked her ear off about how wonderful A Game of Thrones was. A few weeks ago, she grabbed me in the dining hall and demanded to know if I’d read A Feast for Crows yet. I’ve been trying to savor the last two installments, since I have no idea how long we’ll be waiting for the next one (although I correctly prophesied the release of A Dance with Dragons, booyah), but she made me swear to read it so we could commiserate over it. George R. R. Martin has created a monster, and I’m quite happy infecting others. …okay, considering some of the stuff that goes down in A Feast for Crows, that might not have been the best metaphor…
A Feast for Crows picks up, naturally enough, where A Storm of Swords left off. As the War of the Five Kings slows, Westeros appears to be in a state of uneasy truce. Cersei Lannister rules as Queen Regent for her surviving son, Tommen, in relative peace, with only a few rebellious pockets to deal with. But this new truce is a breeding ground for new intrigue—the Iron Islands have called a kingsmoot, attracting Euron Greyjoy and his vast ambitions, and the royal women of Dorne, both true and baseborn, have turned their eyes to the Iron Throne. All the while, the sisters Stark and Samwell Tarly attempt to keep their heads above water, as events vastly out of their control rule their lives.
I had been warned by many, including my friend Richard, that A Feast for Crows didn’t include any chapters from the viewpoint of my favorite characters—Daenerys, Jon Snow, Tyrion—and that might make me impatient. But Martin gave me a Cersei I could almost sympathize with, a Sansa who is learning the ropes of politicking while still being herself, and Brienne. Oh my God, Brienne. I don’t want to say too much, but honor requires flexibility in this universe if you want to come out intact. What I’ve always loved about Martin is that he makes each and every one of his characters three-dimensional human beings, so while I missed my favorites in the abstract (DANY!), I never missed them while reading, too fascinated by what could possibly make Cersei tick so crookedly. The story of A Song of Ice and Fire is a story of war and its repercussions down to the last child—no wonder it’s gotten so vast and complex that Martin has hinted that he might need more books than the planned seven (and that was after the planned three) to tell it.
As ever, Martin’s characterization and eye for detail remains near-flawless. I laughed, teared up, and went “OH MY GOD” (with an correspondingly grotesque facial expression of shock) several times. It’s a living, breathing world. We see Dorne for the first time here, as it becomes a player on the world stage with the arrival of Princess Myrcella Baratheon, which is part of the gradient between the medieval English Westeros and the rest of the world. Ever since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I have had an undying passion for fantasy desert civilizations, especially if they’re populated by amazing women; Dorne satisfies this. We also see more of Braavos, the first stop for Westerosi in the East, as Arya tries to lose herself there. Losing Dany means losing a lot of the ground already covered by way of other cultures, so it’s nice to see these, especially after hearing about them.
Like A Clash of Kings (have I ever mentioned how much I love that the titles in this series all sort with “a” to reinforce how petty it all is? Glorious!), a lot happens in A Feast for Crows without too much narrative structure. As Martin mentions in the article linked above, this is really the spot before all the farflung story lines begin to move back towards each other; he actually considered writing a massive book to be published in two volumes, rather than two technically separate novels. There’s not much of a climax—in fact, what serves as climax are a handful of shocking cliffhangers. But because there’s so much complex movement going on, I kind of didn’t mind. And I think that’s ultimately a mark of how good Martin is at his craft; you trust him, and he returns that trust, even if it’s not the way you exactly wanted it. (…the Red Wedding, anyone?)
There’s also an interesting focus on female power in A Feast for Crows. One subplot involves the Iron Islands deciding who will be next to lead them—Asha Greyjoy, despite the customs of her people, decides to toss her hat in the ring. In Dorne, where primogeniture is absolute, the Princess Arianne decides to back Princess Myrcella for the Iron Throne. Cersei finds herself in a struggle for the hearts and minds of her people and her own son with Margaery, his queen (and aided by a female acquaintance in love with her). And Brienne attempts to find an honorable way of being a lady knight, which, as ever, rarely serves her well, much as I love her. These women are all trying to negotiate their ambitions with the reality of their violently patriarchal world; most turn to sexuality, some to brute strength. In writing this review, I find that I miss Dany’s presence here because she’s the only one who has found a workable path, although A Feast for Crows boasts two male characters eager to use Dany as a way to claim the Iron Throne. But I think my beloved khaleesi is more than capable of dealing with them…
(Incidentally, who do I turn myself into for shipping Petyr and Sansa? There has to be some authority to deal with that.)
Bottom line: A Feast for Crows, despite its lack of narrative structure, continues the trend of the series—Martin’s keen, heartbreaking characterization, incredible eye for detail, and depiction of the madness of war remains as impeccable as always. Hop to it.
I rented this book from the public library.