Monday, May 9, 2011

George R.R. Martin's A FEAST FOR CROWS

Oh my goodness.

I was warned starting in on A Feast For Crows that it was a slow burn, that some elements would be missing, that it was going to be fundamentally different from the three books preceding it, but no amount of warning could prepare me for what Joel of Oak Park, IL illuminated so brilliantly in his Good Reads review of the book, which can be found here. Go have a look. I'll wait.

Nor is that stunning dadaist triumph in any way a satire or exaggeration. That line, repeated to the point of being felt as a bludgeon, really does appear at least that many times in A Feast for Crows, spoken by a character who has already been established in prior novels in A Song of Ice and Fire as being more than a bit stolid. Monomaniacally now she has set off on the last shred of her quest to keep the last fragments of her promises, and we are dragged along for every excruciating step of her plodding journey. A far cry from what I've lauded in the prior three books? Yes it is.

Fortunately that is not all there is to A Feast for Crows, but it is a strong indicator that the crows have not left us much in this case.

George R.R. Martin apparently got carried away in continuing his thumping great series beyond A Storm of Swords, so much so that he decided at some point to cut the next book in two, and, furthermore, not simply to stop halfway through the story he had spun out for A Feast for Crows but to excise wholly entire story lines and move them to a future book. Many beloved characters have been hanging from many cliffs for many years now, and A Feast for Crows left them hanging; many get barely a mention in this book.

What we get instead are a spate of minor characters, new and old, taking center stage in ways both good and, as I complained of above, bad -- and also what perhaps saves this novel from feeling completely like filler, the comeuppance of a villainess who is perhaps the only figure in the book that Martin has left as a completely hateable figure, a woman who spent so much time and energy scheming to take power that she didn't leave any over for deciding what to do with that power once she had it -- apart from Making Them Pay, of course. Her unraveling is told with great skill and is enjoyable to watch, and even here, in the final moments of the decline and fall of a pretty much unvarnished villain, Martin manages to wring from us a bit of sympathy for her. But just a bit.

Meanwhile another seeming villain appears poised to actually become the hero of the epic overall, which is not something I would have predicted in the early days when I started this series. This character's turn has been so subtle I didn't see it coming for a long time either. Bravo!

Alas, I still feel the impulse to cry foul. George R.R. Martin is not a young man and there are two more volumes to go after the next, A Dance with Dragons sees daylight in July, and I feel like he was coasting here. Extremely repetitive dialogue aside, the storyline in which one maid quests after another (especially since the reader is fully aware of the fate of that other) is still one this story could have done very well without, and while I can confess to have had a certain curiosity about a realm within the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros which had only gotten off-hand references before, the chapters set there and the personalities illuminated generally bored me. Perhaps I merely suffer from plot fatigue at this point?

At least there wasn't too much religious nonsense of the kind I complained of in A Storm of Swords, though it was a resurgence of fanaticism within the state religion that proved our villainess' undoing. This is cause for concern, though, as with her effectively neutralized I suspect that the last big secular storyline has concluded and the remaining three books will now romp through all the jihads and counter-jihads the prior four have set the stage for. I really hope that doesn't happen, but am pessimistic. This is fantasy, after all.

But so, what color is Sansa Stark's hair again? Ugh...

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