Review of A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

A Feast for Crows - A Song of Ice and Fire - Fantasy Novel - Fantasy Book - George R.R. MartinA Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Paperback: 784 pages
Publisher: Bantam (October 30, 2007), *hardcover edition published November of 2005
ISBN-10: 0553582038

I finally got around to finishing A Feast for Crows (AFFC). I had read about 700 pages of the 1,000 page saga months ago, anticipating the new book A Dance with Dragons (ADWD) would come out this past spring, but the release date got pushed until the fall, and so I thought I would wait and finish AFFC and then jump directly into the new book when it was released. I heard recently ADWD is not going to be published into fall of 2010 now, so I decided to go ahead and get AFFC out of the way and move on to other books on my shelf.

In true fashion of the other novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Feast for Crows is full of unexpected plot twists, deep characterization, and solid writing. Martin introduces us to some new POV characters, namely Cersei and Brienne of Tarth. Brienne is still looking for the daughters of Caetlyn Stark, and Cersei borders on paranoia trying to figure out how to save the Kingdom of Westeros for the Lannister family. Many of the well-known characters (Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Daenerys) are missing from this installment, which is one of the major criticisms of the novel from readers.

There are parts of the novel I enjoyed, and parts I really wanted to skip through. I’m obsessive compulsive when it comes to reading every word in a novel, and once I start reading, I feel like I have to finish, but there were several chapters in AFFC I wanted to by-pass. The chapters on Sansa and Arya really don’t go anywhere; they just drag and drag, and readers don’t really learn anything new about their characters. The chapters covering the Iron Islands were interesting, and that faction will certainly play a larger role in the game of thrones, but readers will have to wait to see how much of an impact exactly, most likely not learning much more until book six in the series.

Book five, A Dance with Dragons, supposedly parallels AFFC, revealing the stories of those characters not present (Jon, Tyrion, etc) in the fourth book. Martin had originally written AFFC and ADWD as one novel, but then split it because the volume was growing too large. He says at the end of AFFC that he split the novel and left out some characters intentionally because he wanted to tell the entire stories of some characters instead of telling parts of the stories of all characters.

There has been growing concern over the years that Martin will not complete the series. The first novel, A Game of Thrones, came out in 1996, followed by A Clash of Kings in 1999, and A Storm of Swords only a year later in 2000. There was a much longer delay between the third and fourth books, five years to be exact, and it seems readers will have to wait another five years (or longer) for A Dance with Dragons.

As a fan — and I believe George is the best fantasy writer out there — I’m torn between wanting the next installment quickly and wanting Martin to take his time. The story lines are so complex that I know it must take him hours upon hours of editing to bring everything together consistently, and that can be a daunting task for any writer, a task I’m not sure Martin relishes to finish. He’s been busy with other projects according to his blog, and as readers, we should not expect George (or any author) as Neil Gaiman puts it, “to be our bitch.” Still, readers are in large part responsible for an author’s success (like the fans of a football team), and it’s my contention an author does owe it to his fans to finish what he/she started. And that’s not just with authors and writing. That goes for anything. I’m a firm believer if you start something, you should see it through to the end.

This has been an informal review of A Feast for Crows, and I don’t mean to say that I think Martin will not finish A Song of Ice and Fire. I firmly believe he will, and he will be seen as one of the greatest fantasy authors of this generation, someone who re-invented the genre by moving away from the Tolkien-esk world of elves and orcs and wizards, and engineered a world that is not only supernatural but also believable and real and human in terms of characters and their motivations. So many of the fantasy novels of old were black and white, good and evil, light and dark. But Feast for Crows, like all the other books in A Song of Ice and Fire, remains irrefutably gray, a world where protagonists become antagonists, and the survival of main characters is never guaranteed. Many fantasy authors are now following this path by giving fantasy a shot of realism, which has opened up the door to new readers of the genre who would have never considered fantasy before.

23 thoughts on “Review of A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

  • I’ve been a huge, huge fan of this series from the beginning, but I lost a lot of faith going through A Feast for Crows. It’s clear he’s struggled with both this book and the next, and I feel like it definitely shows on the page. This was the first book in the series that felt perfunctory to me, like it was marking time until it could get back to the meat of the story.

    The only event that impacted me was Cersei’s last chapter or two. The rest was crammed with new characters whose struggles never connected to me.

    I know he wanted to jump five years ahead from Storm of Swords and then decided it was impossible and needed to fill in the gap, but AFFC felt like a lot of story that would have been interesting as backstory, but is less interesting told. I can see why he got nervous by not actually telling it all, but I’m not convinced he was right that we needed to see it happen.

    Which is a pity, because Storm of Swords was one of the greatest novels I ever read. To follow it up but a book that advances zero of the major plot threads from that novel was, I think, a mistake.

    I’m really hoping A Dance with Dragons gives the series back its momentum. Feast For Crows felt like book one of a follow up series, not a book past a series’ halfway mark.

    Good work on the review.

    Eric

  • Thanks, Eric. I agree with all your points. I felt the exact same way reading it. I did like the last couple of Cersei chapters as well. Also, the last Brienne chapter was interesting with the re-emergence of Caetlyn (aka “Zombie Cat”).

    Storm of Swords was a fantastic novel, and I do hope A Dance with Dragons will recapture the feeling of that novel as well as the first two, and continue the major plot lines.

    Do you have any suggestions of other fantasy series I could read until ADWD comes out? Any that you feel are as good as A Song of Ice and Fire?

  • “The chapters on Sansa and Arya really don’t go anywhere; they just drag and drag, and readers don’t really learn anything new about their characters.”

    I’m glad someone else raised this point. This is really my one problem with Martin–sometimes it seems he’s writing for pure quantity over quality. No doubt he raised the bar with this series, but there have been times where I just wanted to skip whole sections b/c it seems as if nothing is happening.

  • I’m new here and I found your blog through the “Outstanding HIstorical Fiction” blog. Very nice blog–I’m glad to have found it.

    Anyway–onto George RR Martin–I managed to read the first book in the series, but got so bogged down in the second that I gave up on it. My main complaint was that the minute I became invested in a character, the story jumped to another character. I guess his style is not for me, although there was a lot that I liked about it. And his characters are so real, they just grabbed me. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t stick with it though. I lost patience when I couldn’t track one or two or three, but had to sift through what seemed to be a cast of thousands (forgive my hyperbole).

    Having really enjoyed the first book, I am now interested in what other people, who have better stamina than I, think about the subsequent novels.

  • Scott, believe me, there were times when I really wanted to skip entire chapters but was afraid I might actually miss something. Most of the time, I didn’t miss anything. Martin seems to have a formula where he builds and builds tension for the majority of the book and then everything goes nuts for the last couple of hundred pages. AFFC didn’t really follow that pattern with some of the characters like Sansa or Arya. Nothing left me hanging with them that makes me want to come back to their story lines when they return in the next book, which I asssume will be book six.

  • Joan, thanks for stopping by my site, and I’m sorry for my delayed response. I’ve been in the process of moving houses last week and have been without an Internet connection for a couple of days.

    As for Martin, I did think the 2nd book dragged more than the first. Book three is the jewel of the series, though the story builds slowly in that one as well, and by the end everything is chaotic. His characters do become overwhelming at times because there are so many, and oftentimes, I’ll have to flip to the end of the book to trace the family trees again.

    Martin’s style hops from character to character, and he will often try to end each chapter with some kind of cliffhanger to keep you interested in that character until he returns to them. I definitely can see how it becomes confusing, because sometimes by the time he returns to that character, I’ve forgotten what happened to them to begin with because he waits so long to revisit their POV. It’s certainly a book you can read over and over again and always see something new you didn’t see before.

    What are your favorite fantasy reads? Have any suggestions I should try?

  • I have to admit that the main reason I picked up Martin’s book was because of my specific interest in Richard III and a general interest in the Wars of the Roses and I was led to believe that the Ice & Fire series was a fantasy based on these wars and the dynasties involved. However, for the most part, I’m not a big fan of fantasy. My preference is SciFi. Of all the fantasies I’ve read, I probably liked ‘The Hobbit’ the best–better than the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.

    Although I didn’t read Shrek, but saw the movie instead, I think that’s about as perfect as a story can get. It works on so many levels and doesn’t ever drag. In fact, you have to be quick to get everything. Each time I watch it, I see something new.

  • Steve,

    Have you read anything by Guy Gavriel Kay? I’d recommend pretty much everything he’s written, excepting his most recent novel, Ysabel. Which is kind of cruddy.

    As series’ go, he wrote a duology called the Sarantine Mosiac, which is set in a fantasy setting based on ancient Byzantium. It’s a gorgeous, incredible piece of writing, and one of my favorite fantasy works around.

    He also wrote a book in the same world, but a different time period – this time a fantasy take on Reconquista era Spain – called the Lions of al Rassan, which is another of my favorite books. Finally, there’s a novel of his called Tigana, about a kingdom that’s conquered, then stripped of its identity, including the memory of their nation’s name. It’s a great book about rebellion from oppression that I’d also recommend.

    So if you haven’t read anything by GGK, I’d say he’s your best bet for what to read.

    Eric

  • Eric — Guy Gavriel Kay is certainly on my list of authors to read. I’ve had others recommend him on numerous occasions. It seems like I’d enjoy his novels because it’s similar to what I’m doing with mine: a historical fantasy of sorts. Have you read The Summer Tree (Book 1 of the Fionavar Tapestry)? I’ve heard that series is very good.

  • In no particular order (and I know I’m forgetting a lot):

    Arthur C. Clark
    Isaac Asimov (although I prefer his nonfiction)
    Frederick Pohl
    Ben Bova
    Lois McMaster Bujold*
    Ursula Le Guin*
    Anne McCaffrey*
    Connie Willis
    J. Michael Straczynski
    Orson Scott Card

    *also writes fantasy, but I prefer the scifi

  • Steven,

    I have read The Summer Tree. Fionvar is an odd duck. I love it, don’t get me wrong. Emotionally, it’s a powerhouse. It does things to its characters I didn’t expect, and it made me cry more than once. I don’t tear up at books, even great ones, usually.

    On the other hand, I half wonder if GGK was told, “I bet you can’t write a good series that uses every single fantasy cliche of all time.” And he took the bet.

    In many ways, it’s as cliche-fantasy as you could ever imagine. Even King Arthur shows up in it. Seriously. But it all works, somehow. I remember having trouble with The Summer Tree until about midway through, during the sequence with the eponymous tree. Which broke me up.

    So it’s tough for me to know whether to recommend that one first. I loved that series, but you have to accept it for what it is.

    Eric Sipple

  • Joan — I like your list. I’ve read Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova and snippets of Le Guin. I wasn’t aware Le Guin wrote SciFi as well. What are some of her SciFi novels? Orson Scott Card does a good job with characters, and his stories are always interesting.

    Eric — I may have to skip The Summer Tree. That one doesn’t sound as appealing. Have you read Last Light of the Sun? I’ve heard good things about that one as well.

  • It’s been so long since I’ve read Le Guin, that I’ll have to go digging to find what I remembered as scifi–digging done. I believe that ‘Left Hand of Darkness’ is scifi as is ‘The Dispossessed’ and ‘Lathe of Heaven’.

    Have you read ‘The Doomsday Book’ by Connie Willis? It’s a combination of medieval and near future scifi, with lots of humor.

    That reminds me two authors that I have to look at again–Terry Pratchett and Larry Niven.

    Have you read Card’s Shadow series? I was so blown away by Ender’s Game that I thought it couldn’t get better until I read the four Ender books and then the Shadow books. The Shadow books are all about Bean. Loved them.

  • Steven,

    I have read Last Light. It’s a good book with an interesting setting, but in many ways it’s a less effective play on the themes in Lions of Al-Rassan. I give it a definite recommendation, but I’d read Lions and Sarantine first, personally.

    The only book of his I haven’t read is A Song for Arbonne, which for some reason I have had a heck of a time getting into. I don’t know that it’s the book’s fault, but I have yet to crack it.

  • Steven, I’m interested in learning what you think of “The Doomsday Book” and the Shadow series–although I’m fairly confident you’ll enjoy it as much as you did his Ender series.

  • Joan, I’ll let you know what I think of them if I ever get around to them. Too many books right now on the pile. I still have books from two Christmases ago that I haven’t read.

  • I can’t bring myself to finish the damned book. Summarised, a lot of events seem fascinating but actually reading them is painful because it seems like nothing happens. Or rather, something interesting or important happens then it is followed by a whole load of nothing. I’m surprised at how much Cersei’s paranoia and blatant insanity was grating on me.

    How many lists of food, clothing and random noblepersons can GRRM write? Why am I often left thinking ‘This character’s name sounds familiar…’?

  • I agree Ellie. In my opinion, he could have really shortened the book and spent more time on the characters from the other books that really seem to impact the story. I didn’t feel like many of the characters moved the story along much. I used to like Arya’s character a lot, but she was boring in Feast. And there is nothing redeeming about Cersei. She’s just annoying.

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