A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire #4)
George R. R. Martin
Harper Voyager, 2011 (2005)
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.
The fourth book in the series focuses on events in Kings Landing, as well as the Eyrie, Dorne, Oldtown, the Iron Islands and across the Narrow Sea in Braavos. As such, some of my favourite characters were missing completely (to be picked up again in #5, A Dance With Dragons, which exists as the ‘other half’ of this book). However, the new locations were welcome. Dorne has existed on the maps that accompany each book since the beginning, but it was only here that any of the life there could be viewed firsthand.
At first, the book was reasonably disorienting. Used to chapters headed by character names—characters by this point that are largely familiar—it was strange to find many of the chapters headed not by names but by less obvious monikers. These ‘new’ characters, however, begin to flesh out a book that is less action, more politics. Characters manoeuvre and sidestep and outwit and bargain with each other; not uncommon in Westeros, but there is certainly a deeper focus on it here.
What emerges might best be described as the aftermath: the aftermath of war, of death, and of rebuilding. There is a subdued quality to the book that at first I found hard going, but becomes a necessary shade to proceedings. These are characters that have been scattered, lost, and in some cases renamed and reborn.
The biggest revelation in A Feast For Crows might well be Cersei, who gets POV chapters for the first time in the series. Convinced that she is the Lannister sibling most like their father Tywin, she sets about ruling as Queen Regent while Tommen, the boy king, spends his time playing with his cats. Cersei believes herself to be clever and politically astute, but as the book progresses it becomes painfully obvious that she is floundering in a sea of more competent (and quietly, just as ruthless) politicians.
The scenes in Braavos were fun, mostly because of my enduring love of Arya. Her brief interaction with Sam was poignant, as Arya is unable to reveal her true identity, and so Sam never knows he has spoken with Jon’s little sister, so far from home. Sam was another joy in this book: his heartwrenching journey across the sea with Maester Aemon wasn’t the most action-packed, but it was interesting and it was nice to see Sam in
a different role.
In the epilogue Martin states that the reason for splitting book #4 and #5 was to tell the whole story for half of the characters, rather than half the story for all of the characters. That is not to say, however, that there is not much more story to come for the characters in this volume: as it ended, I was fearful for at least two characters, and left wondering how they and others would get out of their current predicaments.
I am excited to move on to A Dance With Dragons and see how the other characters are faring. A Feast For Crows is not my favourite of the ASOIAF series so far, and there are a lot of names to keep straight and a lot of intricate political manoeuvring in amongst the muted action, but it was still a delight to spend a little more time in Martin’s intricately constructed world.
Overall rating: 7/10
Book source: Borrowed from my brother.