Thursday, 20 November 2014

'A Feast for Crows' by George R.R. Martin (2005)

Synopsis: A Feast for Crows is the fourth book of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The War of the Five Kings has almost come to an end. In King's Landing, Tommen Baratheon now sits on the Iron Throne with his mother Cersei Lannister acting as Regent. Cersei is becoming increasingly suspicious of the powerful House Tyrell, especially Margaery, and her reign is running into debt. She also falls out with her twin brother Jaime who then travels to the Riverlands in order to negotiate with the Tullys. Brienne of Tarth is also making her way to the Riverlands. She's travelling with Tyrion Lannister's former squire Podrick Payne and is on a quest to find the missing Sansa Stark. Sansa is now in the Vale. She's pretending to be Petyr Baelish's illegitimate daughter Alayne Stone and is helping to manage the Eyrie's household. Petyr is also giving Sansa some informal training on politics. On the Iron Islands, King Balon Greyjoy is now dead and his brother, the pirate Euron Greyjoy, has returned from the smoking ruins of Old Valyria and claimed the throne. This is much to the anger of Balon's other relatives. In Dorne, Oberyn Martell's daughters are grieving over the loss of their father and are putting pressure on their uncle Prince Doran to take revenge on the Lannisters. Doran's daughter Arianne and her lover Ser Arys Oakheart are also plotting to crown Myrcella Baratheon as the Queen of Westeros. Arya Stark has now left Westeros behind and has sailed to Essos. She arrives in the city of Braavos and manages to find the House of Black and White, the headquarters of a group of assassins. The assassins take Arya on as a pupil. Finally, the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jon Snow, has sent his friend Samwell Tarly on a mission to research the Others and become a Maester. Sam is travelling to Oldtown (via Braavos) and is being accompanied by Maester Aemon, Gilly the wildling, Gilly's newborn baby, and a fellow member of the Night's Watch called Daeron.

A Feast for Crows is definitely my least favourite of the A Song of Ice and Fire series so far. Mind you I was kind of expecting that to be the case since most of the reviews that I'd read before reading the book hadn't been particularly positive. The general consensus from the ASoIaF fans are that the fourth and the fifth books in the series aren't as good as the first three books. One of the common criticisms of A Feast for Crows in particular is that many of the major characters from the ASoIaF series aren't actually in the book. Daenerys Targaryren isn't in it. Tyrion Lannister isn't in it. Bran Stark isn't in it. Davos, Stannis and Melisandre aren't in it. Jon Snow is in the book but only very briefly. I found myself really missing a lot of these characters and it didn't seem right to me to have an A Song of Ice and Fire book without Jon, Bran and Daenerys. Aren't they supposed to be the "ice" and the "fire" of the series?! It really didn't help matters that Martin introduced a lot of new characters in A Feast for Crows. The Greyjoys are all incredibly unlikeable and all of the chapters that were set on the Iron Islands bored me to tears. And why did Martin feel the need to provide three different Greyjoy narrators when only Victarion would have sufficed? The chapters that were set in Dorne weren't all that much better. Again, Martin gives us three different narrators for this section when only Arianne Martell would have been enough. Arianne could have really done with some more character development and the only section on Dorne that I genuinely quite enjoyed was her final chapter. It turns out that Arianne was secretly betrothed to Viserys Targaryen and that the Prince of Dorne is actually pretty badass after all!

Another common criticism of A Feast for Crows - and also the fifth book A Dance of Dragons - is that it's too slow-paced. As soon as I came across that view the alarm bells started to ring in my head. I thought that A Storm of Swords was a brilliant book but even I found that one a little bit draggy and hard to get through in places so how draggy must books four and five be I thought?! Well, yes, it's true, A Feast for Crows does often drag. I've already mentioned that I struggled with the Iron Islands and Dorne sections but even the chapters that featured the familiar characters often bored me. I really like Brienne as a character but her story in this book was so repetitive that it wasn't long before I became bored with it. Sam is kind but he's so whiny and cowardly that I simply can't respect him, and his story bored me as well. I have a couple of friends who really enjoyed Arya's story in this book but personally I thought her chapters were only okay.

George R.R. Martin's writing in this book bothered me at times too. There's still a lot that I admire about Martin's writing. He's never crafted a sentence that's made me to want to cry at its beauty - unlike Tolkien - but his writing has always been atmospheric and engaging. He's done a brilliant job with his POV narrators. His narrators have all got very distinct voices and I'm sure that's not an easy thing to pull off. However, there's this certain immaturity about Martin's writing that's really starting to irritate me now. I don't know if it's because Martin has gotten less subtle or if it's because my greater enjoyment of the previous three books blinded me to an extent but... he seems to have a fixation with breasts. Whenever any new female character shows up Martin will always resort to describing their breasts! Even in the chapters where the POV narrator is female! Personally I find this juvenile and distasteful. The writing also felt more repetitive and lazy to me than the other books did. How many times did we need to be told that Tyrion ordered Grand Maester Pycelle's beard to be shaved off? How many times did we need to read Brienne saying that she was "looking for a highborn maid of three and ten, with a fair face and auburn hair"? How many times did we need to read Jaime's thoughts on Cersei's possible, er, activities with Lancel, Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy? Characters call their cousins "coz" and refer to their uncles as "nuncles" in this book when those words never came up in the previous three books. Martin gives POV characters multiple names which he never did in the previous three books. "The Kraken's Daughter", "The Iron Captain", "The Prophet". Why couldn't Martin have simply titled these chapters "Asha", "Victarion" and Aeron"? If Martin was trying to tell us things about the characters through those titles then that's... weak. In the other books we learned about the characters through the chapters themselves.

You'll have gathered by now that I think A Feast for Crows is much weaker than the previous three books in the ASoIaF books but I didn't hate it by any means. There are some genuinely great moments in the book. Really! Cersei is the character who gets the most chapters in A Feast for Crows and much to my surprise I actually found myself enjoying her chapters quite a lot! I hate Cersei so the fact that she made so many incompetent and idiotic decisions made for some highly entertaining reading! :D Cersei sees herself as being a female version of her father but she's nowhere near as cunning and intelligent as Tywin or her brother Tyrion. Her schemes fail spectacularly and she ends up being arrested and put on trial. I admit that I did feel a tiny bit sorry for Cersei by the very end but she did have it coming. Jaime Lannister continues to get some great character development in this book too. He's resolving to keep his temper better, he's taking his vows as a knight more seriously, he's showing sympathy towards people that he would have probably killed a couple of books ago, and he's becoming more self-aware. I'm convinced that Jaime is going to get killed off by the end of the series but I very much hope that he finds some kind of redemption before then.

I really enjoyed Sansa's chapters in this book too! Sansa has some fantastic chapters in A Storm of Swords so at first I was extremely disappointed when I had a flick through A Feast for Crows and realised that she wouldn't be getting many chapters in it - but I really enjoyed the chapters that she did have. Poor Sansa Stark is an extremely underrated character. The fans don't hate her like they do with Joffrey or Cersei or Theon but she isn't a popular character like Jon Snow or Daenerys or Tyrion. Why? Okay, I'll admit that in A Game of Thrones Sansa was selfish and bratty but she's had some of the very best character development in the series ever since then! It's been about two years since Sansa left Winterfell. During that time her father was beheaded right in front of her. Her mother and her oldest brother Robb were brutally murdered. She's under the impression that all of her other siblings have died. She was abused and humiliated by Joffrey. She was forced to marry a Lannister against her will. Her mad aunt Lysa tried to kill her. And yet, considering everything that Sansa has been through, it's remarkable that she's been able to hold onto her hope and innocence! She hasn't become bitter or filled with hate! As far as I'm concerned Sansa is a true survivor and is one of the strongest characters in the whole series. She's become one of my favourites and if she doesn't survive and end up ruling over the north and/or the Vale by the end I'm going to be bitterly disappointed! Sansa gets some really interesting character development in A Feast for Crows. She's learning how to play the game of thrones and there's a lot of Littlefinger in her chapters which I really appreciated because Littlefinger fascinates me. Is he after the Iron Throne himself? What are his plans?

A Feast for Crows has some great moments but it isn't a great book and it's definitely the weakest out of the ASoIaF books that I've read so far. I'm hoping that A Dance with Dragons will be an improvement.

Rating: 3/5

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