Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Feast For Crows

A Feast For Crows
by George R. R. Martin

It seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears....With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King’s Landing. Robb Stark’s demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist--or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out.

But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces--some familiar, others only just appearing--are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead.

It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests--but only a few are the survivors.

Holy hand grenades. I'm already reviewing book four? That seems crazy. I mean, there is a lot of time between when I actually finished these books and when I have the chance to sit down and write about them, but it feels like there is no way I could have written about three of these monsters already.

Things really start picking up in this one and that very well may be because of how this and the the next book are structured. The time passing in these two books is like travelling across a Venn diagram. Everyone sort of starts out at the same time at the beginning of A Feast For Crows, but then the book focuses on only some of the major characters and events. Then, the next book picks up those other characters from where they were in the time split, follows them through the time that is simultaneously happening in A Feast For Crows, and then continues on with everybody for a little bit.

Granted, I do have the advantage of reading A Feast For Crows in the first days of the release of A Dance With Dragons, so I knew that there would be this time and character focus difference between the two books. If you are not aware of that, I can see how some things might get confusing and the exclusion of certain characters towards the end of the book made me anxious.

In this book, we follow King's Landing and all the political sword fighting going on there. Not so much literal sword fighting, although there is some of that, but the Lannisters (namely Cersei) are losing hold on the city and the Tyrells seem to be maneuvering things more effectively. Knowing Cersei as we do, this cannot go well. And it doesn't. Spectacularly.

We also follow Samwell Tarly for a large portion of this book. He is tasked with taking Maester Aemon back to the Citadel, along with Gilly and Mance Raynor's son, but he is met with considerable difficulty and faces many interesting personal challenges. Samwell's growth as a character has been rather slow, considering the pace of all of the other characters and their pursuits, so it was fantastic to get some good time with him and see more of his role in this story.

Arya Stark begins her training at the House of the Black and White, which is complicated by her own stubborn nature and her increased connection with Nymeria (although, she doesn't know that's what it is yet). There were so many times that she crossed paths with other characters in Braavos and each one of them was gripping as I tried to map where she would end up. She has been one of the greatest mysteries of the series for me. Most of the characters have a basic idea of where they should be headed or why they are proceeding the way they are, but Arya seems to take off whenever she needs to without any plans or goals. She still maintains the hope of seeing Jon Snow at some point, but she's a realist and knows that this is unlikely with how her situation keeps bouncing her around. The other characters try to shape the events around them, but she keeps flowing through them and I have no idea what's going to happen with her before the series end.

Brienne of Tarth is tasked by Jaime Lannister to take one of the swords forged from the late Eddard Stark's blade Ice and keep her word to Catelyn by finding Sansa. She ends up questing through towns in the traditional sort of fantasy story way and is tagged along by Podrick Payne, Tyrion's semi-competent squire. If you've been following my reviews, you'll remember that I love analyzing Brienne's character because of the gender-expectation bending and I latched onto her role with Podrick just as quickly. Pod is fantastic because he recognizes the same sorts of things I was. He approaches Brienne as he would any man going on such a quest and is a little awkward with the seemingly surprising revelations that she is, in fact, a woman whenever she speaks directly to him, but he switches between “my lady” and “sir” nervously, as if he's waiting for Brienne to approve which titles he should be using. He's always been considered a bit of a simpleton by the Lannisters he served, but Brienne takes the time to listen to him and teach him and he repays the respect in kind.

Littlefinger becomes Lord of the Eyrie after the murder of Lysa Arryn and Sansa, disguised as his bastard daughter, has to manage Robert and the lords of the Vale whenever Littlefinger needs to use her for his gains. Sansa's growth as a character has also been slow and I have been unsure whether she would remain a weaker character or if she would grow into her role as a direwolf. It's been hard to tell because the boys have been forged by connections to their wolves and Arya has always been wild, but Sansa's wolf was killed and she's never exhibited the kind of behaviour that has reinforced Arya's survival instincts. In this book, however, we get some more glimpses of the iron forming under her skin. She's always going to remain quiet and pretty on the outside, I think, but she's learning and adapting and I think she's going to become a quietly ruthless fighter very soon. It feels like she's on the brink of it and I am eagerly awaiting the moment when she wins.

Jaime leaves King's Landing (which opens the place up for the Tyrells as mentioned above) to oversee the siege at Riverrun, which doesn't lead to very many interesting new things with him, but we see the continuation of the changes caused by his trip with Brienne. And the Iron Islands flounder for a bit after the death of Balon Greyjoy, but they call for a new king. Divisions between the clans widen a bit and ships are sent out to stage new battles, which I think will become very interesting and very important later.

And, of course, main characters are killed. There are some intriguing things happening with the undead right now, so I am suspecting that we may not see the last of some of them. The fantasy aspects of this world are becoming more prevalent and I am hooked into their development, clinging to see what's going on. As usual, I had no idea what to expect in the next book when I closed this one and it continues to enthrall me in the best possible ways.

Up next, the current final book - - A Dance With Dragons!

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