Book Review: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Note: This review will contain SPOILERS for the first three volumes in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. If you have not read those, you may want to consult my reviews of those books instead.
While war still ravages the land of Westeros, for the moment it is contained to a handful of trouble spots. In King’s Landing, King Tommen is the puppet of his mother, Queen Cersei as she schemes to gain complete power over the realm. In sunny Dorne, daughters seek vengeance. In the Riverlands, the last castles are yet to be taken, and outlaws and soldiers alike despoil what little remains of the smallfolk. In the Vale, there is no war, but their lord’s castle, the Eyrie, feels the effects of winter early. Across the Narrow Sea in Braavos, a girl has lost much and stands to lose more. On the other side of Westeros, the Iron Islands must choose a new leader. And in Oldtown, there are sinister doings at the Citadel of the Maesters.
And everywhere, the crows are feasting on carrion.
When Mr. Martin realized that this book was getting way too long, he could have taken the Wheel of Time route and split the story in half by time. But that would mean checking in with about thirty viewpoint characters, most of whom would accomplish relatively little in that timespan. Instead, he chose to split this and the next volume, A Dance with Dragons, up by location.
The good news is that this allows the characters that do appear to advance the plotlines considerably. The bad news is that if your favorite characters were in the other territories, you won’t see them until the next book. And back in the day, that would be another five years!
There are a bunch of new viewpoint characters, and Mr. Martin gets “cute” with the chapter headings, naming them “The Soiled Knight” or “The Kraken’s Daughter” instead of the character’s name. He even uses different nicknames for different chapters!
With their numbers dwindling and scattered, the Stark family is down to two viewpoint characters. Sansa Stark is now going by “Alayne Stone”, supposed daughter of the cunning Littlefinger. With the death of her aunt Lysa and her cousin Robert being less than mentally sound, Littlefinger has free reign as the Lord Protector. This does not make him or Alayne loved by the people of the Vale, however.
Arya Stark has arrived in Braavos, the city of secrets, and seeks shelter in the temple of the Many-Faced God. She is learning to serve death, but can she make the final sacrifice of her own identity?
Brienne of Tarth goes back to the Riverlands in search of Sansa. What she finds instead is outlaws, many of whom have a grudge against her specifically. Her sections have some of the best writing in the book.
Samwell Tarly is sent south from the Wall to Oldtown to learn maester skills that the Night Watch desperately needs…and for more secretive purposes. He has an encounter with Arya during a stayover in Braavos, though they don’t realize at the time how they’re connected.
Jaime Lannister quarrels with his sister Cersei and is relatively happy to get the order to end the siege at Riverrun. He’s still trying to adjust to the loss of his hand, and attempts to navigate the contradictory oaths he’s taken. Jaime may have no honor as far as most other people are concerned, but he wants to keep what honor he has.
Queen Cersei becomes a viewpoint character for the first time, and we see how the patriarchal nature of Westeros society has contributed to her personality. If she’d been properly trained in leadership and statecraft from the beginning, things would be better. But instead she’s always been told her job is to pump out babies, and barred from anything but backstairs scheming. And scheming is not the only thing needed to run a country. Possibly worse, a certain prophecy has made her essentially the Wicked Queen from Snow White, right down to dwarfs thwarting her will. It’s no surprise when her own plots backfire, leaving Cersei in a nearly inescapable bind.
(Indeed, one of the minor subthemes here is “The Patriarchy ruins everything, even for patriarchs.”)
Over in the Iron Islands, we see things from the viewpoints of Asha Greyjoy, daughter of the late King Balon and sister to Theon (who does not appear in this book but is probably still alive); her uncle Aeron, a fanatical priest of the Drowned God, and her uncle Victarion, leader of the Iron Fleet. None of them like the other uncle Euron Crow’s Eye, who is just outright evil, but at the Kingsmoot Euron reveals a plan to conquer Westeros that most of the Ironmen like. And with Westeros in the shape it’s in, now is definitely the time to attack.
Asha is the smartest of the lot, but her uncles don’t listen to her because she’s a woman.
Down in Dorne, the viewpoint characters are Areoh Hotah, captain of Prince Doran’s guards; Arianne Martel, Doran’s daughter and heir; and Arys Oakheart, a knight of the Kingsguard who is protecting Princess Myrcella Baratheon.
Under Dornish law, Myrcella would have precedence over her younger brother Tommen for the Iron Throne. Arianne, who is worried that her father is scheming to have her put aside in favor of her own brother to match mainstream Westeros culture, comes up with a plan to crown Myrcella queen and stir up war with the Lannisters. Certain facts have been hidden from Arianne, so her plan has disastrous consequences.
Lots of plot twists and interesting developments this time, but I sorely missed favorite characters. There are maps at the front, and an ever-growing character guide in the back.
As always, there’s tons of violence, talk of rape, and strong language. Torture is on-page this volume, and worse implied.
Because of the largely-new cast, this volume reads differently than the earlier ones The reader should probably have the next volume ready by the time they finish this one, as I am told they read better as a set.