Title: A Feast for Crows (2005)
Author: George R.R. Martin
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Read: 19th April – 3rd May 2017
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
In this fourth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, the sheer weight of political machinations and the implications of several key deaths in Westeros slowly begin to take their toll on the houses of the kingdom as a more subdued, but nonetheless bloody, war dawns just as it seems the War of the Five Kings is coming to an end.
“History is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging.
What has happened before will perforce happen again.”
Warning; if you have not read the first three books in the series, probably don’t read this review as the first section synopsis alone will spoil the events of the previous books. You have been warned.
At King’s Landing, we find Joffrey’s younger brother Tommen is now King of Westeros, but everyone knows Cersei really holds the power of the kingdom. Following the death of Tywin Lannister, ostensibly at the hands of a now-fled Tyrion, Cersei becomes distrustful of those around them at court and surrounds herself with only individuals that are loyal to her house, becoming increasingly paranoid of the Tyrells and Tommen’s young wife Margaery. She also manages to alienate her uncle and her twin brother, Jaime, in the process, as she desperately tries to cling onto power and security for herself and her son. Meanwhile, Brienne of Tarth has been charged by Jaime to find Sansa, and traverses the Riverlands in the hope of finding the missing Stark girl who hides, aided by Littlefinger, in the Vale of Arryn, disguised as Petyr’s bastard daughter, Alayne. In Dorne, the daughters of Oberyn Martell confront their uncle Doran and beg for him to seek revenge for his brother’s death, an action which would further strain the already strained relations between the Martells and the Lannisters. Over on the Iron Islands, Balon Greyjoy’s death prompts a scramble for power and a Kingsmoot to decide who is strong enough and has the right to rule their people. Braavos welcomes Arya Stark who becomes a novice in the mysterious House of Black and White and becomes known as Cat of the Canals. Samwell, Gilly, and Aemon, on a ship to Oldtown via Braavos, at the orders of Jon Snow. And so the complicated story begins…
“I prefer my history dead. Dead history is writ in ink, the living sort in blood.“
Personally speaking, I loved A Feast for Crows because not that much actually happens – if anything, this is a novel of political machinations and lots of people murmuring veiled threats to each other. That is the kind of Song of Ice and Fire that I like. Don’t get me wrong, a nice Red Wedding here and there, or an attack on King’s Landing is all well and good but what I can really sink my teeth into is when the Lannisters are being sneaky bastards. When the entire action of the narrative feels like a very calculated, slow-moving game of chess and all the pieces start to come together, slowly but surely. Due to the sheer size of the manuscript of what should have been the fourth book in the series, the decision was taken to split it, with the action of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons running alongside each other with the books separated by protagonist/location. In this book we follow Jaime and Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Sansa Stark, Samwell Tarly, Arya Stark, various Greyjoys of the Iron Islands, and a bunch of Martells. It sounds harsh but this book was great for me because I hate Bran’s POV, and it was very noticeably absent, “noticeably” in a good way, mind you.
“War seems like a fine adventure, the greatest most of them will ever know. Then they get a taste of battle. For some, that one taste is enough to break them. Others go on for years, until they lose count of all the battles they have fought in, but even a man who has survived a hundred fights can break in his hundred-and-first.”
If there’s one thing I think the book did well it is juggling the wealth of characters and locations it had to play with and juggling them well. This was the book in which I was the least confused about what was going on at any given time. I’m not sure if that’s just because I’ve become more familiar with the Houses of Westeros or because George R.R. Martin wisely split the characters down the middle and only told half of their stories in this instalment. Either way, I am grateful for that, because I was no longer scrambling to constantly Google who a random minor character was and thereby disrupting the flow of my reading. Likewise, I felt the pacing in this novel was spot on – it didn’t feel like the action was unfurling too slowly, instead it felt measured and calculated, like the author was slowly moving all the constituent parts into the necessary positions on the board before it all kicked off again.
“For herself, she wanted sleet and ice, howling winds, thunder to shake the very stones of the Red Keep. She wanted a storm to match her rage.”
It’s no secret that I love a bit of the Lannisters. They’re despicable and they’re cruel but they don’t pretend to be anything else – this appeals to me in a way that, frankly, House Stark doesn’t (I find them a tad too noble and altruistic for my liking). More than previous novels, A Feast for Crows allowed you to understand the motivations of Cersei in particular and (dare I say it) almost sympathise with her plight. Probably because this novel captures so well and sinking sense of paranoia and distrust – it makes you question every single character’s motivations and actions, wondering if what they’re doing is genuine or part of a long game that the reader is not aware of, yet. This so very well mirrored the paranoia felt by Cersei in the latter half of the book and kudos must be given to George R.R. Martin for, yep, making me almost feel sorry for a Lannister.
“Words are wind, Brienne told herself. They cannot hurt you. Let them wash over you.”
For other novelties, we get to see more of places outside what have now been established as the main landmarks of Westeros – we now see places only mentioned before, like Braavos, and have characters from Westeros actually move through these environments and cross paths in tantalising (and frustrating) ways. As I said, it seems as though the disparate threads of a story and slowly coming together to form the real, rich thread of the longer story Martin is telling in the course of this series. A Feast for Crows kept me engrossed throughout its 778 pages (no mean feat) and, most importantly, it made me itch to read the next book, A Dance with Dragons to (hopefully) see the payoff of all the moves and machinations within this volume.
“Most have been forgotten. Most deserve to be forgotten. The heroes will always be remembered. The best. The best and the worst. And a few who were a bit of both.”