Apr 23, 2013

[Books] A Feast for Crows

My continuing adventures in Westeros through both the Game of Thrones television series and the A Song of Ice and Fire books. It's a weird experience keeping pace with the show as I read the books, although I try to ensure that my book-reading remains ahead of the show more often than not.

A Feast for Crows is the fourth book in the series, and a bit of a narrative annoyance. Because of the author's claims that the book was just too long for a single volume, he opted for a narrative split across characters instead of a chronological one. Thus the book only follows the stories of some of the major characters that we've been following for three books now.

That wouldn't be too bad had it not been for how Martin had been structuring the books thus far. Each chapter places us in close proximity to one of the key characters. Thus if you cut out that perspective, you won't know what's going on.

I'm kind of grateful that I didn't get into the books early on. Needing to wait years before finding out what the heck is going on with some of the more favored characters would have been maddening for me. But given there have only been five books released thus far, I don't really have much road left in this journey.

Synopsis: A Feast for Crows is the fourth book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. The book debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list and was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, British Fantasy Society, and Quill awards.

As the War of Five Kings continues on, the board has changed significantly since the events depicted in A Storm of Swords. At least for claimants to the Iron Throne have died, but it does not make the power struggle any less intense. This book follows several major character arcs.

Naturally we return to King's Landing and the rule of young Tommen Baratheon. But given he is a child, the power is really held by his mother, Cersei Lannister, who is acting as regent. But her efforts to prove that she is every bit of a Lion as her father Tywin, some of her decisions may be considered less than ideal. This book also gives us a glimpse of a prophecy once given to her as a child that foretells of her tragic fate, of sorts. She has also dispatched her brother, Jaime, to the Riverlands in order to put an end to the siege. At the same time Brienne of Tarth continues to search for Catelyn Stark's daughters under the orders of Jaime as well.

Meanwhile at the Eyrie, Sansa Stark now takes on the identity of Alayne, the bastard daughter of Petyr Baelish. Here she ends up caring for the young and sickly Robert Arryn, who currently rules the Vale. On the Iron Islands, the former forces of Balon Greyjoy now struggle to select a new leader for their people. Dorne continues to grumble and a growing faction demands for full-on war in recompense. And lastly, Samwell Tarly travels to Oldtown by way of Braavos. He is accompanied by Gilly, daughter of Craster and the aged Maester Aemon. In Braavos is he bound to meet a certain Cat of the Canals, who in truth is Arya Stark, hoping to learn the skills of the assassins known as the Faceless Men.

This book brings a lot more focus on Greyjoy and Dorne, although I don't know how riveting these aspects of the story are in the context of the bigger picture. Sure, the Iron Men are somewhat vying for control of Westeros as well, but to give them full focus in the form of the character narratives was a bit of a challenge to fully invest in. The Dorne storyline just felt like one big distraction, so one can only hope that things will make sense later on. But given the narrative structure that Martin followed for this book and for the next one, we won't really find out the full relevance until book six.

Initially I was enjoying Cersei and her paranoia - it was a natural progression for her character and all that she had been going through. But then Martin decided to go into a rather weird sexual dimension that I found was rather unnecessary. And it just went on and on and I didn't really see the point in indulging in things that much.

Not even the chapters involving Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark were enough to cheer me up. Normally I truly enjoyed reading more about these two characters but their narrative direction in this book was a little lackluster. And it's not a problem of bad writing in this case. So much had happened in the past book that we were back at the phase of the story where new plots had to be established before we can even declare the beginning of rising action.

On the whole, the book suffered severely since the characters of relatively greater popularity such as Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow were absent from this novel. We have no idea what's going on with these characters for now and things won't make more sense until the next book or so. And it didn't help that Martin had some rather weird ideas for what he wanted to do with the characters that were in fact featured in this book.

A Feast for Crows is my least favorite book in the series thus far. And I don't have particularly high hopes for the next one at this point. Thus it can only get 2 instances of Arya declaring all that she had learned out of a possible 5.

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