Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

It's been a while since I last wrote a review, and I couldn't think of a better book to muse over to kickstart myself back into the habit. Everyone by now knows George R.R. Martin's much-acclaimed "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. Everyone. If you don't, you've been living under a rock. And I don't mean the Casterly Rock of the Seven Kingdoms (see what I did there?). "A Feast for Crows" is the fourth installment to the fantasy series, continuing the story of strife, war and death.

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces--some familiar, others only just appearing--emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests--but only a few are the survivors.

I'll just come right out and say it--I was pretty disappointed with this one. I couldn't shake the feeling that Mr. Martin has slowed down the pace considerably with "A Feast for Crows," which primarily has to do with the fact that the entire novel is only told from a selected few of the characters. The novel jumps around between the points of view of Brienne, Cersei, Jaime, Arya, Sansa, Samwell, and a few other, more minor characters. Where was Daenerys and her kick-ass dragons, and Jon Snow, and--his absence was most prominently felt--Tyrion? I mean, these missing characters, at least to me, are the most exciting, and instead, we were left with only a handful of them. What made the previous installments so thrilling despite their mammoth lengths was the vast range of characters and Mr. Martin's ability to seamlessly dip into all of their perspectives. He does so in "A Feast for Crows," but on a much smaller scale. While it is understandable that a series of this scale isn't so easy to handle--that's what makes it so incredible, after all--and that Mr. Martin had to split the characters' stories into two books, it was still a little bit of a bummer, and cost this novel its original excitement.

The thing is, that even if the readers are only made privy to the perspectives of some of the characters, their stories could still be compelling. I had to push myself through the pages with this one, and ended up skimming over quite a few parts as well. The separate stories of Brienne, Cersei, etc. just weren't as gripping to me, and didn't seem to add much to the larger picture of the clashing of the Seven Kingdoms. While it does give us insight into the aftermath of the events of the previous book, "A Storm of Swords," it didn't do much to advance the bigger storyline. Instead, "A Feast for Crows" seemed to focus on the more individual stories, such as of Brienne trying to fulfill her oath to Jaime by searching for Sansa, or of Samwell journeying from the Wall with Maester Aemon. There just isn't that same heart-pounding thrill and feeling of holy-moly-the-crap's-hitting-the-fan in this novel, and I was left with the overall impression that the novel as a whole is a filler for the series, rather than a proper installment in it.

Having said all of this, where "A Feast for Crows" drops the ball on the storyline, it redeems itself a little with Mr. Martin's consistently incredible writing. There's no doubt about it--it takes a vast amount of creativity and imagination to concoct such a story like this one, and Mr. Martin has it. Not only is there a great deal of world-building going on, adding to the ever-expanding universe of the story, but there is also some convincing character development. As I said earlier, the different chapters seem to focus a lot more on the individual stories of each character rather than the larger scheme of things, and, while this might not advance the overall storyline much, it does allow for the readers to gain a deeper understanding of each character and their emotions. The relationships of many of the characters, like that of Brienne and Jaime, and Jaime and Cersei, and so on, are given the spotlight throughout the novel, and it's also very interesting to see when they interact.

Overall, "A Feast for Crows" is a rather disappointing installment to the otherwise incredible series, rendering it more of a 'filler' in the overarching storyline. However, it still must be read, especially if you're planning on reading the entire "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga, given its focus on a few of the major characters of the series. I just hope this means that the next book, "A Dance of Dragons," will grab me by its claws and blow my mind away.

Rating: 3/5