A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Paperback: 784 pages
Publisher: Bantam (October 30, 2007), *hardcover edition published November of 2005
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.