This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

11 April, 2014

REVIEW: A FEAST FOR CROWS

Cover art by Larry Rostant
Cover design by David Stevenson

A FEAST FOR CROWS
BOOK FOUR OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
BY
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

ISBN: 978-0-553-58202-4
Pages: 976 (+ appendix)
Publisher: Bantam Dell
First published: 8 November 2005
This edition published: 26 September 2006

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)

WARNING: THIS COVER COPY CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM PREVIOUS BOOKS.
The review is however spoiler-free. (Apart from naming characters who have survived.)

 It seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears... With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King’s Landing. Robb Stark’s demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist—or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out.

But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, 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—are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead.
It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.


   This book opens very well. It seems to be a new beginning for the whole series, it feels fresh and interesting again. Granted, there is yet more courtly intrigue introduced, but we are diversifying from what we have seen in the three previous volumes. There are some very interesting new viewpoints introduced. And we finally get some real movement in some of the storylines that went around in circles in the last book. It doesn't last long though. We soon go back to the same old things that dragged the previous book down.

   It is well known that this is a book that was "split in two". It doesn't really show much, mostly it is noticeable in the characters that are off screen here. Unfortunately that reveals the main weakness of these books: Too many viewpoints.
   The novel seems leaner and more focused with a group of characters cut out of the loop. And it is actually pretty refreshing to not get reports on the major events repeated several times. But we do get some new point of view characters, and it means that we are not losing anything near the number of PoVs to what is absent here.
   It doesn't help that some of the new locations we are taken to are far more interesting than what we have been stuck with for the first three volumes. And it is kind of inescapable for the reader to ask themselves why we didn't go to these places before.

   Frustration is perhaps the expression that best covers my reaction to this novel. There are actually many great things here: Sam Tarly's journey, Arya Stark getting somewhere at last, going to Dorne, and Brienne of Tarth getting her own chapters. But it is just a bit too little, and too late by now. What feels fresh here is bogged down in the same old storylines as before.
   What is also very telling here is that Martin tries to give us a deeper insight into some of the characters, and he fails. The characters don't really seem to develop as much as change in the way needed for the plot to hang together. And it has become very clear that the plot is growing like a bunch of weeds, and that it needs serious amounts of pruning before it can be accused of being a landscaped garden.

   Another thing that must be mentioned when it comes to fresh things happening is something that happens about halfway through the book; suddenly we are introduced to religious military orders. Granted we have seen religion in the story before, but then it was presented as something special. Here we suddenly have not only the aforementioned religious orders, but religion as something that is central to a lot of people's lives. It seems to have been pulled out of thin air.
   It isn't the only thing that comes seemingly out of the blue, but it is the most blatant. Several other things seem also to be something that, as a reader, I would have expected to be made aware of by the author before this. At times these things come now they seem like they are here to get the story out of the corners it has been painted into.
   There is a general problem with the novel in that sense too. We get so many chapters that seem to go absolutely nowhere. It just seems to run on empty, like Martin keeps writing even though he has nothing to tell us. This would still feel bloated at half the length it is.

   Everything isn't bad though. There are some very interesting turns of the story here. And as I mentioned above the new locations add some much needed freshness to the story. Martin still has a hold on me as a reader, but I must admit that he has had that grip since A Game of Thrones. As someone who is mostly a completist in his reading, I have basically been invested in this series since book one. This is not so bad that I want to give up on it either, but like watching the last season of LOST, I have given up hope of the ending being as satisfying as the beginning of the story promised.

   Neither when it comes to quality nor originality is this essential Epic Fantasy for the genre reader. But it would be silly not to say that it has reached a cultural significance where you perhaps should make an effort to get through this series. Reading with a less critical eye than I do would probably make you see much less of it flaws, and without the kind of extensive notes I keep it will be much harder to notice how much of the plot is standing still.
   This is an interesting read, as is the series as a whole, but the entertaining aspect of it has been somewhat lost for me. There is a however a very good story at the centre of this increasingly bloated and messy series of books. I am determined to slog it out to see it to its end, and I am sure I am not the only one who is left with that feeling after investing enough time to make it this far.

REVIEWS: A Game of Thrones   A Clash of Kings   A Storm of Swords

LINKS: George R.R. Martin   Bantam Dell

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