A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin
After years of plotting and poisoning at court, Cersei Lannister is finally sitting the Iron Throne of Westeros. It’s worth noting that her manipulations led to the War of the Five Kings, which has killed so many in the Riverlands and the North that all that remains is A Feast for Crows. As Queen Regent, Cersei immediately begins turning the Seven Kingdoms even more strongly against each other. Cersei envisions a realm of complete obedience to her rule, and to achieve this end she dismisses the most talented lords and knights in Westeros, surrounding herself with incompetents — and then complaining about them.
Although Cersei’s every move suggests a potential backfire, she is very much the star of A Feast for Crows, and it is interesting to contrast her with the novel’s other characters. Watching from the Vale, Littlefinger points out that Cersei is doomed to fail. Littlefinger’s politics are just as manipulative as Cersei’s, but he manipulates his enemies into becoming his allies rather than into becoming murderers and lechers. Although we’ve seen no demonstration that responsible government leads to long-life leadership in this series, it’s difficult not to feel that Cersei is headed for a fall as we watch Littlefinger’s plots bring him more power.
Cersei is easily contrasted with Brienne of Tarth, a “warrior maid” that provides A Feast for Crows’ other dominant storyline. Cersei is seductive and manipulative, while Brienne is ugly and nobly motivated. In fact, Brienne of Tarth might be the only person left in Westeros that still believes in honor, trust, and loyalty. However, although these two characters might not like each other, both are decidedly dull. Brienne and Cersei are predictable creatures in a world that has been, until now, decidedly unpredictable. Although we might sympathize for Brienne, it doesn’t help her story that she tours the riverlands in a vain attempt to find Sansa Stark, especially since we a) already know Sansa is in the Vale, and b) already saw the ravages of war in the riverlands in A Storm of Swords.
Frustratingly, Cersei and Brienne move from one blunder to another, making the majority of A Feast for Crows feel like a series of failures. This approach worked in A Game of Thrones, arguably because Ned Stark was a character that readers could easily identify with. If nothing else, many readers will find themselves thinking that Martin’s frustration of romantic quests was done better in the preceding entries.
Still, there are a few shining moments in A Feast for Crows. Jaime Lannister now leads the Kingsguard, a position that offers readers an interesting window into the history of Westeros. Without his sword hand, Jaime is forced to rely on his wits to solve problems, and he finds that he’s a surprisingly clever tactician. We are also treated to a few glimpses of Arya’s life in Braavos, where she is studying to become a wizard like Jaqen H’ghar. Her studies into deceit are almost as amusing to read as her studies into cursing. Sadly, their chapters are too few to save the novel from Brienne and Cersei.
A Feast for Crows is a disappointment, but it would be difficult to recommend that readers skip it. Although little “happens,” Martin does rearrange his chessboard. It has begun to snow, inviting the Starks to change their family words, “Winter is coming,” to “I told you so.” The Iron Islanders are repurposed as raiders of Westeros, the politicians in King’s Landing are given quite a strong shake, and Martin highlights that perfectly powerful armies remain in the Vale and in Dorne. They may yet cause trouble, though they do little here. Consequently, A Feast for Crows feels like an interruption, rather than continuation, of the series.
In many ways, A Feast for Crows feels like a failure in an otherwise dazzling fantasy series. Martin explains in his afterword that a parallel set of events centered around Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys will be told in the following novel, A Dance With Dragons, likely to be released in 2006. If we consider that A Feast for Crows stops with a series of cliffhangers, and if we consider that it’s only one half of a novel, then it seems that we’re left with just ¼ of a story. Perhaps that’s why A Feast for Crows is so disappointing.
We all know the phrase “sometimes the journey is the destination.” But sometimes too the journey is just that, the journey. And that’s the problem with A Feast for Crows — too much journeying, not enough destinations. George R.R. Martin found he had “too much” for one book so lopped off half the characters and divided it into two books. Clearly that was an overly simple reaction and a mistake as that left him with a lot of characters but too little story for A Feast for Crows.
We’re missing many of the best characters here and that lack of balance was a noticeable drag on the book. Another drag was the lack of editing. Realizing you have too much material doesn’t necessarily mean all you need to do is publish it successively. Instead, paring some of the material might have helped. Here there is too much repetitive action, too much unnecessary description of clothing, heraldry, genealogies, nipples (yes nipples, lots of ’em in this book), and the book’s pace is noticeably slower than previous ones. Some scenes seemed merely perfunctory, as if they were previous plot points to be checked off as “resolved” or plot points to be checked off as “future events to unfold further.” Lots of characters move from place to place, but there is little of interest in the trips themselves and one too often has to wait for another book to see if there is anything of interest once they arrive. Stylistically, Martin is as strong as ever, but style needs to be married to something else and here it is not.
A Feast for Crows isn’t a bad book — it moves slowly but move it does, there are no jarring plot contrivances, dialogue is generally strong — so it isn’t a bad book. But it isn’t a consequential book. Or a compelling one. The first three books I’m happy to reread in preparation for another as they are more than good and stand up to multiple readings. But A Feast for Crows is the sort of book where looking up a summary on a website will do you fine — it will tell you what you need to know and with about as much interest or passion as the book itself had.
Recommended so fans of the series know what happens and can pick up with the next one, but with fair warning that this is, if not a severe drop-off in quality, certainly a painful one. Here’s hoping the next one returns to the quality of the first three.
This book definitely wasn’t quite as eventful as the previous books in the traditional sense. There weren’t any huge battle sequences or weddings filled with bloodshed, but rather a lot of plotting.