Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Feast for Crows

A Feast for Crows
by George R. R. Martin
Published in 2004
Published by Bantam Books
ISBN: 978-0-553-58202-4

Spoiler Space:

A Feast for Crows, book 4, is the least popular of the five published books of A Song of Ice and Fire.

I didn't personally think it was all that terrible. It was somewhat slow-moving. It had the pace of the first half of A Storm of Swords without the plot acceleration of the second half of that book. But Martin's a decent enough writer that I could live with that. I enjoyed what the book gave me.

But I'm honest enough to admit that a key factor in my enjoyment of A Feast for Crows is that I read it in the year 2012, and I know I can move on and read A Dance with Dragons more or less immediately afterwards. That's important because A Feast for Crows is mostly setup, with very little payoff.

The Dorne and Iron Islands sections of A Feast for Crows -- basically, all the sections with 'new' viewpoint characters, with chapter headings that read as titles rather than names -- exist solely to set up the events of books 5, 6, and 7.  Remove the promise of later books from the equation, and the Dorne and Iron Islands bits become exercises for the reader to wonder, Why am I reading this again?

Additionally, there's the fact that in terms of world-shaking events, nothing much happens in A Feast for Crows. And unfortunately if you're the sort who enjoys watching GRRM kill off major characters, Aemon Targaryen is about the most important person who you'll get to see die.

A Feast for Crows is full of scheming and plotting and killing of minor characters. It's full of King's Landing politics, the Lannister twins, and character development (more so for Jaime than Cersei).  It's got Brienne wandering through central Westeros looking for Sansa and slaughtering bad guys, in sequences that strike some readers as pointless but become much more interesting if you assume GRRM is sneaking in events and information which will turn out to be important later. A Feast for Crows is definitely important in the overall scheme of things, but it's as short on truly world-shaking events as the first half of A Storm of Swords. The payoff is going to come later.

Now imagine you're a Song of Ice and Fire fan who reads A Feast for Crows in 2004. You're left impatient for payoff. You want GRRM to give you more, and you're heartened that he promises that book 5 is coming next year. And then you're left waiting, year after year.

I know, I know. GRRM is not our bitch. (See here for the historical origins of the mantra.) But it's not hard to see where the fan belief came from that A Feast for Crows is where GRRM began to go off the rails, and how this belief might bear no relation to the book's actual quality or lack thereof.

I didn't begin reading Song of Ice and Fire until book 5 was already a reality, all published in paperback and easy to acquire. So I have no particular reason to dislike A Feast for Crows. Yes, the book has few universe-shaking events, and the Major Character Death Count is relatively light. But it's all about setup, about introducing new players and moving others into position. A Dance with Dragons, the beginning of the three-novel-long finish that'll (presumably) bring all these plot threads to fruition, has been published and is sitting on the table in front of me as I write this, so I'm willing to cut A Feast for Crows some slack. 

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