Review: A Feast for Crows, George R R Martin

Normally, my policy is not to review multiple books from the same series on this.  This is partly because if I do then writing Girl with her Head in a Book would be pretty much all I do, and I have a class of twenty to get through SATs in just over four months.  Every time I write that/ say it, I want to curl up and cry just a little bit.  Still, I have decided to make an exception for A Song of Ice and Fire because quite frankly after 2500+ pages of reading (very probably more), I feel the urge to share the experience.  Or just act as a terrible warning – if you start A Song of Ice and Fire, you will end up wanting to finish it and George R R Martin hasn’t finished writing it yet and he’s not so good with the deadlines.  To be fair, they’re not short books.  I am now at the point where I worry when I’ve finished one and haven’t got the next one lined up so goodness knows how I’ll get on after A Dance with Dragons is over.

Trying to explain why I’m reading this has been surprisingly tricky.  I’m not your average fantasy fan, I think I’ve mentioned this before.  I do like the rich detail to the history behind it – I realised how easily it had gone in when I tried to explain it to my friend and suddenly reeled off a whole spiel about the wall of ice that’s several thousand feet tall, what it means to take the Black and of course the burning question of just whether or not R + L = J.  Even trying to explain the Iron Throne to someone who’s not familiar get a wee bit tricky (“So there’s this throne that’s like made out of swords because it’s like so hard to take a throne and it’s supposed to be really tricky to keep a throne”).  I’ve not always been convinced that I like this series at times – some fairly ghastly things have happened; seven year-olds have been thrown from the tops of tall buildings, babies have been wiped out by spells, incest has been treated as a daring lifestyle choice … I could go on.  Yet still, I read on.

I think what I do like is the way that Martin puts down the clues for the reader to pick up.  I like being able to theorise about what’s going to happen next … like whenever someone with black hair turns up, you know there’s a fair to medium chance that they are the illegitimate child of Robert Baratheon, whether or not other people notice.  A very lovely friend has just given me Series One of the television series on TV and already it’s a very different experience to reading the books.  You can’t just sweep past the rape when it’s being played out on screen.  The Dothraki are a bit of an eye-opener.  Yet still, the casting has been spot on so far and watching it does still fill me a with a strange sense of happiness.  I thought this was odd, but then I looked it up and discovered that it was filmed in Northern Ireland.  Ah yes, home.

Cersei Lannister. Queen. Sister. Crazy lady.

So, A Feast for Crows was a funny one – half the cast were elsewhere and the body count still keeps on rising.  It is a different experience reading at this end of the series, four books in and Martin can operate safely on the assumption that you’re a dedicated fan – things can be referred to without unnecessary exposition.  I get nervous like I’m supposed to when someone starts singing “The Rains of Castermere”, I know that whenever Cersei has a good idea, it’s all going to go horribly wrong soon, that troublesome family members cannot be executed because that would make you a kin slayer and damned in the eyes of the gods.  I also know that pretty much the entire adult generation are harbouring secrets about what happened during Robert’s Rebellion and their children are paying the price.  It all gets very Sins of the Father.

It’s funny though, at the beginning of the books, the Lannisters seemed like they were the wicked villains of the piece – an early accusation of murder by Lysa Arryn and the whole Bran-throwing-from-tower incident plus of course the icky yucky fact of their unnatural relationship.  Still, I think it’s the sign of a talented writer that at this point, four books on, Jaime is making real steps to redemption.  Cersei is still a nightmare but I’ve come to see her as more of an incompetent rather than evil.  She and her brother did not kill Jon Arryn.  They were not responsible for the second attempt on Bran’s life.  They are two people trying to play the game of thrones and they are not up to playing it properly.  Jaime at least seems to realise this, Cersei does not.  The consequences for her are severe.

Sansa is a character who has grown on me.  It seems fairly miraculous that she is still alive.  In the approximately two years since she has left Winterfell, she has been orphaned and believes that all of her siblings have gone the same way.  Plus she was forcibly married to a Lannister, even if he was the best of the bunch.  Sansa suffered ritual humiliation by her first love, the loathsome Joffrey, then was wrongly accused of his murder.  After all that, her aunt tried to kill her by pushing her out a window.  Sansa is remarkably stable given the circumstances.  I’m guessing it’ll be a while until I find out what happens to her next since A Dance for Dragons will be covering the characters not mentioned in this book but Sansa certainly annoys me less than she did way back in the beginning.  Still, I’m not convinced that throwing in her lot with Petyr Baelish is the solution to all her problems.  Sansa seems to be given some really weird love interests – the Hound, Littlefinger, the Imp.  And yes, I am aware that Sansa is rather creative with her memory but it’s clear that she and the Hound had an odd bond.

On a side note about the Hound – I had come to think that Westeros was a world that made a lot of noise about religion but had very little about Faith.  I had mused about whether or not George R R Martin himself was a Christian, as in whether perhaps this had some bearing on how he could portray belief.  Anyway, in A Feast of Crows, religion finally gained a real significance in the story.  The words the monk-esque characters have about the Hound show real grace for his crimes and a sympathy for how he suffered.  The Hound did terrible things, he did kill Mycah the butcher’s boy, yet still his hatred for his brother has given him incredible pain both as a child and as an adult.  I can’t quite believe that the Hound’s story is over, particularly when a very tall novice is a recent entrant in the abbey.  It would be interesting to see him truly find a redemption.

Brienne, the Maid of Tarth

My absolute favourite character though is Brienne of Tarth.  She is awesome, and she only turned up in A Clash of Kings.  It’s only in A Feast for Crows that she finally gets her own voice … she is awkward and uncertain but so good-hearted.  It’s ironic that the character who most sincerely embodies the characteristics of a True Knight is in fact a woman.  It was quite touching how she formed a semi-mother/older sister bond with young Pod who could never decide whether it was more respectful to call Brienne ‘Ser’ or ‘My lady’.  Brienne is conflicted over what she truly desires –  she wants to be loved, whether as a great knight or as a woman though it is not quite clear.  As someone who frequently feels horrendously awkward, Brienne was a character with whom to feel great sympathy.  I did feel rather sad though that the bond between her and Catelyn Stark was struck asunder in A Feast.  Female friendship doesn’t get a lot of coverage in this series and it was a shame that this one example does not get further exploration.  To be fair however, I can see why the events of the Red Wedding did cause some profound alterations in Lady Stark’s personality.

I’ll keep going with A Song of Ice and Fire – I like it in the same spirit that I liked Mort D’Arthur, as times goes on the story has come to seem more and more apocalyptic.  Watching the first season the TV series has seemed sad, remembering that the Starks were a happy family once, perhaps the happiest out of any that are shown in the whole series.  It does seem tragic that as soon as they separate, they just don’t ever seem able to find their way back to each other.  Saddest of all was Arya’s realisation as they reach the Twins just in time for the Red Wedding.  I wouldn’t say that all of these books were well written and some of the things that come up are more disturbing than anything else but there really is something there – something powerful, and that is why I do still want to know what happens at the end.

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A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
Published by HarperCollins UK on January 1st 2011
Pages: 849
ISBN: 9780007447862

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2 thoughts on “Review: A Feast for Crows, George R R Martin

  1. Yes! Someone I know is actually reading ASOIAF! I finished Dance the other week and haven't been able to talk to anyone about anything so I don't spoil them for the TV show!

  2. Hey there Mrs, long time no speak! Yeah, this series has grown on me in a rather unexpected way … I've only just started watching the TV series – I know that it's presenting the same events but it's sooo brutal in a way that I hadn't really expected. It is a fascinating story though. And Sansa is way less annoying as the series goes on.

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