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A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

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Long-awaited doesn't begin to describe this fourth installment in bestseller Martin's staggeringly epic Song of Ice and Fire. Speculation has run rampant since the previous entry,A Storm of Swords, appeared in 2000, andFeastteases at the important questions … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Bantam
1 review about A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire,...

Too many balls in the air!

  • Jul 3, 2011
Rating:
+1
This, the fourth in the series, turned out to be somewhat disappointing in light of the earlier books though you could see the problem developing in the earlier volumes as Martin plays what amounts to chapter roulette with his characters almost from the start, jumping from one character's story to another's with every chapter change. It's made for a difficult read at times because every time you get interested in what's going on with one character (and Martin is good at getting you interested!) he drops that story and jumps you to another. Most of his chapters do end well, leaving you wanting to know what happens next, but by the time the strand of each character's adventures picks up in subsequent chapters, you've all but forgotten what was going on and need to re-orient yourself in the larger tale, even as you know you will lose the strand in the chapter you've just completed.

This seemed to work satisfactorily in the first three books, despite the distractions it created. But by this, the fourth, it's really become a ponderous weight on narrative momentum. Also weighing this tale down is its shift in focus to what had previously been an array of secondary characters -- and the unfortunate tendency the author has of doing many of them in, just as they've really started to earn the reader's attention and sympathies. Moreover this tale is so tangled and drawn out that the various skeins never seem to tie back together into single narrative cloth. The characters are still chasing their tails around Westeros, coming and going to King's Landing where the increasingly vicious Queen Cersei is making a mess of things in the wake of the death of her father, Lord Tywin and her son King Joffrey in the last book and the refusal of her brother Jaime to resume his supportive role in their relationship after his mutilation by the slobbering mercenary leader Vargo Hoat. Faced with his own mortality and confronting his own past failings, Jaime has begun to reassess his life and doesn't like what he sees. To make amends he befriends his one-time guard and captor Brienne of Tarth who had been commissioned by the late Lady Catelyn Stark to exchange him for her captive daughters. But events on the road played havoc with that plan and Jaime eventually finds himself in charge of the Maid of Tarth. Seeking to regain his honor, he releases her to find the missing Stark girls, to fulfill the oath he had sworn to Lady Catelyn when she freed him. But Jaime, still a man of war, is eventually dispatched back to the battlefield by his vindictive sister Queen Cersei when he refuses to resume their former relationship with him in a supporting role.

Meanwhile, little Arya Stark has made her way to Bravos by ship, after escaping Lord Beric's outlaws and the Hound, and there falls in with a religious cult of assassins who apparently promise to train her in their ways, building on the abortive fencing lessons given her by her one time Braavosi fencing master Syrio Forel who may (or may not) have died in the first book. Arya's had a tough time of it since Yoren smuggled her out of King's Landing, falling prey first to one group of marauders then another and always trying to find her way back to her mother and brother but never managing it.

At the same time older sister Sansa Stark, still the dumbest character in all of fantasy literature, has finally been "rescued" from her captivity at King's Landing -- only to find herself part of an elaborate game set up by Littlefingers who is busy manipulating the players at King's Landing from a distance to make himself the real power in Westeros. Stupid Sansa is quickly enticed into Lord Petyr's schemes because he's nice to her (it doesn't take much more than that to fool this gal who manages to fool herself most of the time without half trying) and because she fears just about everyone else. She even takes to the deceptions Littlefingers inducts her into, eagerly accepting him as her father. Of course it was Littlefingers who betrayed her real father into the hands of Queen Cersei, costing Ned Stark his head (although in fairness it was actually stupid Sansa who confided Stark's plans to the Queen and thereby enabled Cersei to act before he could).

Jon Snow, Stark's bastard son and now Lord Commander of the Night's Watch at the ripe old age of sixteen (maybe seventeen, depending on the time line), has sent his fat pal Samwell Tarley south to Old Town with blind Maester Aemon and Gilly, Craster's daughter and wife, to seek aid from the maesters in the Citadel while King Stannis Baratheon and his mad priestess of R'Hollar establish themselves in the north along the Wall in anticipation of the coming invasion of the White Walkers. Rumors of a young queen of Targaryen blood, and of her newly hatched dragons, have begun seeping westward from Slaver's Bay in the East and various players in Westeros begin to think the route to power lies through her.

In Bravos Arya bumps into Samwell, who's been temporarily marooned there with his little party, but neither say enough to one another to figure out that they can help each other though Samwell is an emissary from Arya's half-brother and holds the secret of the survival of her two younger brothers. Back in Westeros, Brienne meets up with Arya's old traveling companion, Gendry the blacksmith's apprentice, and guesses his secret which even he doesn't know and almost manages to tell him that he is a bastard son of the late King Robert Baratheon, but is conveniently interrupted just as she's about to spill the beans by the arrival of old enemies. Brienne, a homely maid of powerful physique has chosen to become a knight, in the face of the unchivalrous derision of the noble knights she has known, and manages to prove her honor and nobility in this volume by running around in circles in search of the missing Sansa and Arya, albeit to no avail, and finally chooses honor over surrender when faced with the ultimate test.

And there's a plot to kidnap King Tommen's older sister, Princess Myrcella, whom Tyrion Lannister had previously sent to the Dornish Prince Doran to foster while, among the Iron Isles, the Ironborn choose a new king after King Balon's death, and embark on a campaign of plunder and rapine in the absence of the king's peace. At the Red Keep, Queen Cersie lurches from plot to plot, alienating more and more of her supporters including her father's brother, Kevan Lannister, who refuses to help her son King Tommen when she won't step aside and return to Casterly Rock as Lord Tywin, her father, had planned. The queen, convinced she is, herself, the rightful successor to her late father proceeds to elevate sycophants and lackeys while scheming against those around her out of a growing paranoia. But as one of her aunts tells Jaime late in the book, at the seige of Riverrun, Lord Tywin did in fact have a son who was his match in wits and boldness but it was neither Jaime nor his ambitious sister, but the dwarf Tyrion who slew his Lord father to avenge a great wrong the man had done him.

This book suffers from an overabundance of storylines and somewhat less interesting characters than its predecessor volumes. Worse, it's less focused than the others and, unlike its predecessors, each of which ended solidly, even if they still left you up in the air, this one seems to end in a whimper. A brief afterword from the author promises more to come but it seemed out of character, the author attempting to win us to the next volume by explicit promises instead of the suspense of the plot. Although the disparate storylines have generally held my interest this last book proved more chore than pleasure by the end.

Stuart W. Mirsky
author of [...]

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