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

This is the fourth installment of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, so if you haven’t read any of the earlier books don’t read on because there will be spoilers.

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The book continues the epic sprawling saga in Martin’s fantastically crafted world. With the war of the five kings all but over there is still a lot of turmoil in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.

Following the killing of the King’s regent Tywin Lannister by his son Tyrion, his daughter Cersei assumes the role, ruling until her son Tonmen comes of age. Cersei begins bringing in the changes but is tormented by a prophecy from her past and an intense rivalry with her son’s wife. Craving power and respect Cersei believes she has a way of winning the game of thrones, but will her pride prove to be her undoing.

Cersei’s brother, and former lover, Jaime struggles to adapt after losing his hand and a rift grows between the twins, with Cersei sending him off to reclaim some castles and Jaime being forced to deal with breaking a promise he gave Catelyn Stark when she freed him.

Brienne, the female knight who guarded Jaime continues her quest to find Catelyn’s daughter Sansa, navigating a dangerous world where bandits and outlaws roam. Little does she know Sansa is hidden elsewhere under an assumed name.

Sansa’s younger sister, Arya, has fled across the seas and continues to try and build a life for herself. Meanwhile, the Night’s Watch have sent Samwell Tarly to receive training, and on the journey he learns that the commander and his friend Jon Snow, has made a few sneaky moves which he kept hidden.

At the same time there are other conspiracies and prophecies emerging, and the Iron Islands plan to wage war on the Seven Kingdoms under their new king.

As with previous installments the narrative is told from the perspective of several major characters, the focus shifting after every chapter, which means that we get to see the fallout to events from multiple angles, and enhances the sense of scale and scope to the story Martin is crafting. Plot lines cross paths and then diverge, characters come close to realizations but pass them by.

Martin’s writing is as gripping and entertaining as ever, and his greatest strength is still his visceral, down and dirty style and sense of character. The overall narrative is sweeping and wonderfully thought out, but without the characters it wouldn’t work and Martin creates a cast of interesting characters. We see their flaws and opinions come through, and they’re engagingly human- they have the same desires and fears, and even with the chaos and bloodshed around them there’s still a vein of humour throughout, even if at times it’s jet black.

As he points out in his afterword to the book, there are characters you love and others you love to hate. What’s best is that he splits the perspectives between the good guys and the bad guys, and this blurs the lines throughout. There are characters you root for even though their goal opposes another character you also really like. You kind of hope they can work it out, but knowing Martin at least one of them is going to wind up dead.

Martin writes with such a dark streak that you literally can’t work out who’s going to make it out alive, and with no-one entirely safe it makes the danger more real and cranks up the tension. Once the book hits its stride it’s pretty hard to put down and I routinely found myself in one of those “Just one more chapter” cycles.

The action moves along at quite a good pace and there are great twists and turns along the way, and it’s an utterly captivating read.

The only slight criticism I have is that it’s also rather frustrating. Initially this book was to make up half of the fourth part, but due to length Martin and publishers decided to split it in half. However, rather than doing it chronologically it’s been done based on character and location, meaning that while it still covers a lot of ground several characters (including two of my favourites) are absent from proceedings and only occasionally referred to. It’s annoying as I wanted to know what was going on with them, but it’s a smart move as it ensures you’ll get part 5, every time I finish one of these books I have to resist plunging straight into the next one, but this time it was ten times tougher.

Verdict: Martin’s writing style continues at its high standard, and he writes with intensity and a wonderful sense of character. It’s an utterly mesmerizing read, and while some of his best characters are absent it allows Martin to bring others to the fore. A triumph, this series continues to impress me, and Martin’s knack for killing off major characters mean’s you never relax because you don’t know who’s going to make it. Marvelous. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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