Matt's Reviews > A Feast for Crows

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Apr 26, 2016

liked it
bookshelves: fantasy
Read in June, 2011

The context here is everything.

A Song of Ice and Fire began with the publication of A Game of Thrones in 1996. Thrones introduced us to the land of Westeros, a continent the size of South America but suspiciously similar to medieval England. We followed a handful of characters representing various factions of the Seven Kingdoms, squabbling for the right to sit upon the Iron Throne. Its grittiness, tactility, fully-realized characters, and high stakes (a major character loses a head) gave it a cult following.

Two years after Thrones, A Clash of Kings was published. It told the story of “the War of the Five Kings.” Though it started slowly, it built to a fine ending, which included the shocking loss of Winterfell (home to many of our main characters) and the epic Battle of the Blackwater. A phenomenon had started.

Like clockwork, the third novel in the cycle, A Storm of Swords came two years after Kings. It was the biggest book so far, and easily the best. It featured all the hallmarks we’d come to expect from author George R.R. Martin – swordfights, detailed descriptions of food, casual misogyny, laughably crude sex scenes, shocking twists, major character deaths, and a humdinger of a cliffhanger – but those elements were heightened. There are set pieces in Swords that are simply classic (see, e.g., “the Red Wedding”).

At the end of Swords, the fate of several major characters – beloved characters – dangled in the wind. Readers thirsted for the next installment. They began their wait.

And then crickets.

Nothing for five years.

After five years, we were given the present installment: A Feast for Crows. By this time, it was nearly impossible for any book to live up to the expectations of Swords. On this level, at least, Crows did not disappoint. It certainly met the expectation that it could not meet expectations.

As the old saying goes, the only thing worse than a bad meal is a small bad meal.

Not only did Crows fail to meet the challenge of Swords, it was over too quickly. When readers got to the last page, they were left to wonder, this is it?. Martin, you see, had allowed the manuscript for Crows to get so long, he decided to cut the thing in half. As he explained in a now-infamous postscript, Martin decided to split the book geographically, rather than chronologically. That meant that many of the best characters did not appear; none of the cliffhangers from Swords were resolved; and we were left to follow the dubious quests of various secondary personages. To make matters worse, Martin tentatively promised the next volume, A Dance With Dragons, would be published the next year.

That postscript was written in 2005.

Six years later, A Dance With Dragons was finally released.

Thus, it is a fortuitous time to review Crows. It is a much-maligned book, buffeted by two competing elements: the long wait before the book was published, and the longer wait after. In other words, the book has suffered critically because it took so long to come out and did not satisfy the pent-up demand. It also suffered because it did nothing to alleviate the long wait for Dragons.

Almost all agree that Crows is the weakest volume in A Song of Ice and Fire. Beyond that, opinions are split. Some people hate it with the light of a thousand suns. Some people love it like a pug dressed in a tuxedo. Others acknowledge its weakness while admitting that a subpar steak is still a steak.

The length of time it takes Martin to churn out his opuses creates some high passion amongst his fans. That passion, combined with the internet and thousands of basements belonging to thousands of moms has created a great deal of hyperbolic ire directed towards Martin. While this criticism is a minority report, it is loud, and has colored the merits of Crows.

I am immune to this misplaced anger. I am a latecomer to Martin’s work; accordingly, when I started reading Thrones, four books had already been published, with a confirmed release date for the fifth. I’ve never suffered the long withdrawals between books that the early adopters have had to overcome.

Due to this tardiness, I feel like I can judge Crows based on its literary qualities, rather than its late arrival onto the Ice and Fire firmament. Unfortunately, the literary qualities of Crows are in short supply.

Most of Crows’ problems stem from Martin’s decision to divide the story by geography, and focus mainly on the action in Westeros that takes place south of the Wall. That means that the dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, Martin’s greatest creation, is missing. So are Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Not only are you losing fantastic, multidimensional characters with whom we’ve traveled for hundreds and thousands of pages, you lose the heart of the story. As far as I can tell (and I’m sure I’ll be wrong), Martin’s endgame seems to point towards two events: the struggle at the Wall against the onslaught of the walking dead (the song of Ice); and Daenerys’ struggle to reclaim the Iron Throne with the help of her dragons (the song of Fire). Neither of those crucial points get any play in Crows. Instead, it’s 700 pages of B-side.

The viewpoint characters in Crows (Martin’s story is told in the third-person limited, with chapters that alternate points-of-view among various characters) are mostly new to the spotlight. Jaime Lannister, Samwell Tarly, Arya Stark and Sansa Stark are the only returning viewpoint characters. The other viewpoints go to Queen Cersei, Aeron, Asha, and Victarion Greyjoy, Areo Hotah, Brienne of Tarth, Aerys Oakheart, and Arianne Martell.

Some of these characters are brand new. Some have been barely mentioned. Most of them are confusingly named (it gets a bit tough keeping Arya, Areo, Aeron, Aerys and Arianne apart, at least for me; unfortunately, I’m not able to devote my entire life to these books). With some exceptions, their stories do not rise to the level of interest or intensity as the plotlines of Martin’s earlier books.

The bulk of this book, nearly a quarter of the pages, belongs to Cersei. Given space to develop her character, Martin is his usual strong self. Earlier in the series, Cersei was a terrifying, enigmatic peripheral character. In Thrones, she showed her smarts, and her cruelty, by getting the drop on Eddard Stark (admittedly not the sharpest tool in the shed). After the death of her son, King Joffrey, in Swords, Cersei’s transformation began. She became more guarded, paranoid, and megalomaniacal. Her descent into madness is marked by her growing certainty that all her decisions are correct. The most interesting aspect of Crows is Cersei’s long fall contrasted with the rise of a fanatical religious movement called the Faith.

Cersei is also beneficiary of one of Martin's weird peripheral-characters, the the fallen maester Lord Qyburn. Like Dr. Frankenstein, Qyburn toils away in the dungeons, doing odd experiments on living subjects, the result of which, it is obvious to see, will be half-human, half-monster. (Unfortuntately, Cersei's chapters are disadvantaged by a subplot concerning Westeros' outstanding loans to the Bank of Braavos. All the talk of high finance and trade federations harkened uncomfortably to another famous fantasy/sci-fi epic that lost its way).

Cersei’s brother/lover, Jaime, has the second most page-time. His evolution from villain to hero takes a big leap forward, as we see him go from murderous sister-humper to a canny leader pushing back against the excesses of King’s Landing. With Jaime’s chapters, Martin is able to tie up a few loose ends still dangling after the War of the Five Kings (for example, the dragging siege at Riverrun is finally concluded).

The balance of Crows is told in scattershot style through the ten remaining viewpoint characters.

We barely hear from Sansa, which is fine with me. Still, it is nice to see that she is developing at least a semblance of wit. I have a major problem with her character, mainly because Martin portrays Sansa as a real child; that is, as someone who is uninteresting and dumb. The problem with kids as characters is that kids are inherently boring. Kids aren’t clever, no matter what I see posted on Facebook. Only in a book or movie is a kid who can’t tie his shoes crafty enough to turn his house into a living version of Mousetrap to foil a pair of robbers. So far, Sansa is realistic in the sense that she is dull, frightened, mistake-prone, and hollow. This also means she is a weak protagonist. In Crows, despite a limited appearance, she finally starts to learn some of the finer points of deception.

Arya Stark is a more traditional fictional child. Despite her tender years, she performs great heroic feats. Her ever-growing darkness, however, makes her a joy to follow (I wouldn’t be surprised if, at the end of A Song of Ice and Fire, we counted her among the bad guys). In Crows, Arya is exiled to Braavos. She doesn’t do much of anything, and her chapters seem meant only to explore the islands of Braavos. This would’ve been fine if Braavos was interesting. Instead, it’s just Venice, right down to the swaggering, arrogant, hand-talking men-folk.

Three characters, Areo, Arienne and Aerys, serve to give us entrée into Dorne. The set up here – the machinations of Dorne against King’s Landing – is obviously important. However, these chapters are rushed (and the Aerys chapters are so short and abrupt I have a hard time understanding their inclusion). The same goes for the chapters with the three Ironborn characters: Aeron, Asha, and Victarion. In perfunctory style, they are moved like chess pieces, put in place for further development down the road.

The chapters following Brienne are like walking on a treadmill. She’s given a lot of space to do things, but she never gets anywhere. Martin has her crisscrossing the ruins of a war-torn Westeros, searching for Sansa Stark. Of course, we know exactly where Sansa is; therefore, we know that Brienne is never going to find her. Also, for all her abilities, she is portrayed as a slow-thinker, a female Forrest Gump who’s handy with a sword. Even if we didn't know where Sansa was hiding, we’d have a pretty good idea that Brienne’s plan to find her would fail (it literally consists of her wandering around, asking where Sansa has gone).

These are structural problems. And forgivable, as long as the book’s quality had been consistent. It’s not. This is a poorly written book by Martin’s standards. His descriptions seem tired. His writer’s tics are more pronounced. The dialogue, which had been whip-smart and eminently quotable, is execrable. It is flat, repetitive (Jaime’s “I love you too, sweet sister” is repeated on a loop), and filled with odd, obtrusive, never-before-used idioms. For some reason, the characters start referring to their uncles as nuncles, even though uncle had served just fine before. In one chapter, the insult “stoatish” is used two or three times (as far as I can tell, it means weasel-like) and then dropped like a bag of flaming poo.

Despite taking five years to write, Crows feels like a first draft. There are brief glimmers displaying Martin’s mastery of both his world and his writing. For instance, even though Brienne’s dead-end quest is inert as a narrative, Martin’s evocation of a war-weary Westeros is captivating, with its fresh graves, burnt-out homes, and outlaw-infested roads.

Subpar writing can be saved by a propulsive plot or a great set piece. As I noted before, the plot grinds forward. Moreover, nothing exciting happens. Swordplay is kept to a minimum. There isn’t a battle to be found (in a way, Martin’s exhausted effort mirrors the tiredness of war-blasted Westeros). With the exception of Moby Dick, I try not to use the word “boring” in my reviews. Here, though, things get awfully close to the b-word.

To be sure, there are a few saving graces. The first is the sex scenes. They are just awful, and bound to put a smile on your face. The high/lowlight is a lesbian sex scene between Cersei and Lady Taena that involves an unfortunate comparison of a women’s nether regions to a swamp. It had me laughing my ass off.

Martin is also able to add a few twists at the end, including a cliffhanger that leaves one character dangling by the neck. Here, unlike in Kings, a strong ending isn’t enough to save the rest of the book. To the contrary, Martin should take lessons from M. Night Shyamalan: you can’t rely so much on 11th hour shocks or uncertain character fates.

At some point, A Song of Ice and Fire will be finished. Either Martin will complete the saga, or it will linger forever as a partially-completed near-great thing. When that time comes, it is very likely that the esteem for Crows will rise. It’s faults will be less glaring; its virtues will seem more virtuous.

Right now, though, I just want to move on to A Dance With Dragons and pretend Crows wasn’t half as bad as I know it was.
353 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read A Feast for Crows.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

02/05 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-39)

dateUp arrow    newest »

message 39: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 18, 2011 02:47PM) (new)

I can't believe how little I remember of this book. I remember wanting to punch Brienne, and liking the Jamie/Cercei storylines, but that's about it. I have the next one in hand, so I am worried about not knowing what's up, but then there is no way in blue heaven I will reread the series as a refresher.

message 38: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Ceridwen wrote: "I can't believe how little I remember of this book. I remember wanting to punch Brienne, and liking the Jamie/Cercei storylines, but that's about it. I have the next one in hand, so I am worried ab..."

I just started reading the series, and I've already forgotten a ton of minor details. I've been going to A Wiki of Ice and Fire constantly to sharpen my recollection.

However, your memory of wanting to punch Brienne is correct. So you haven't forgotten that much!

message 37: by D. (new) - rated it 3 stars

D. Pow This volume almost made me give up on the series as a whole until HBO rekindled my interest...

message 36: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt D. wrote: "This volume almost made me give up on the series as a whole until HBO rekindled my interest..."

Have you started A Dance With Dragons? I'm reading it, but not with the feverish intensity I had during A Storm With Swords, when I was convinced (for a short time) that I was reading the greatest novel ever.

A Feast For Crows killed some of my love for this series that will probably never reappear.

message 35: by D. (last edited Jul 18, 2011 04:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

D. Pow I haven't started Dance yet. I am re-reading the series again(I'm on Storm right now)... sick, eh?
I've read the first three books 4 times now but this will only be my 2nd pass at Feast...

Christ, I'm a geek.

I hope all this new success has given GRRM his mojo back again. Dance has gotten much better reviews than Feast but he has posted on his site that he won't be starting work on the next volume until next year!

message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

Careful, D. Every time you complain about his publishing schedule, GRRM kills a Stark.

message 33: by D. (last edited Jul 18, 2011 05:12PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

D. Pow I'm not sure there will be enough left to finish the books unless book seven is going to be 'starks in the after-life'...

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

That's why we have to be careful!

The show is good, yeah? I have yet to watch it as I don't have fancy cable. I'll have to illegally download it get HBO.

message 31: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Ceridwen wrote: "That's why we have to be careful!

The show is good, yeah? I have yet to watch it as I don't have fancy cable. I'll have to illegally download it get HBO."

The show is great! Though I have serious doubts, stemming from the show's tight budget, that they can truly pull of A Clash of Kings.

You should definitely borrow someone's HBO Go password get HBO.

message 30: by D. (new) - rated it 3 stars

D. Pow I pay way more for cable than I should...

I agree about the budget. I hope they get the budget and episode count pushed up. Some of the battle scenes this season were real rinky dink.

message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

God, who do I know who loves me enough to give me their password? I'm going to have to do some thinking tonight about whom I can bribe. I'm really excited about Peter Dinklage as Tyrion. Is he amazing? Just say he's amazing.

message 28: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Yes!! He's the beating heart of the show, as he is in the books. If Dinklage loses the Emmy, I will heap scorn upon Emmy voters.

Behold...Tyrion's confessions

message 27: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 18, 2011 07:30PM) (new)

Illegally downloading Ordering HBO right this second. <3 <3 <3 Dinklage forever.

Bridgette Matt wrote: "Yes!! He's the beating heart of the show, as he is in the books. If Dinklage loses the Emmy, I will heap scorn upon Emmy voters.

Behold...Tyrion's confessions"

You couldn't have picked a better scene!! I'm laughing in my cubicle. He should win the Emmy though in all seriousness.

Casey Having troubles with this one - I just flew through the first three books, this one just seems to drag. Sansa is,...well, Sansa, just not very interesting, and dull. Arya has been dumped elsewhere, and to what end? Brienne, seriously? DId Jamie send her on this 'mission' just to be rid of her? If she would use her brains, she might have a slim chance of actually finding Sansa, but I just don't find her bright enough to complete this quest. The non-proper noun named chapters just piss me off. I want Tyrion and Jon, I'd even settle for Bran. I guess Robb's wife and Rickon (the one''s that come to mind quickle) have fallen off the face of the earth? I'm just so frustrated with this book. I'm only on page 217, so I'm hoping it improves.

Craig Curtis I'm in wholehearted agreement with this review. I don't want to resort to hyperbole, but your reivew was pretty much a more enjoyable read than the book. It wasn't terrible, but it was almost entirely secondary characters and nothing really happened by way of the overall story developing.

When I started reading the books last year, I thought that the Starks must be the main characters. But really, it's been hard to get too attached to any of them for me. Ned lasted almost a book, because he was too stubborn to bend even a little to the times he found himself in. Robb was never a narrative focus, and I always saw him as a Sonny Coleone character, and I was just waiting for the 'causeway scene'. Sansa has been unforgivably naieve throughout. Arya is scrappy, but has basically been little more than a chip in the water through four books. Bran, the psychic wunderkind I never connected with, and Rickon's always basically been a toddler.

My favorite characters in the series are Tyrion and his keen mind and sarcastic wit, and Jon Snow, who is as scrappy as Arya, but he actually does things. Of course, neither are in this book.

After blasting through the first three books in a few months, I figured I'd save reading the fourth one until Dragons came out this summer. When I did, I realized that at some point, I'm going to have to take an extended hiatus between books, whether I want to or not. Given the extremely complicated nature of the storyline, I don't know if I'll be able to pick things up in 2016, or whenever the next one comes out. I'm afraid to start Dances with Dragons yet - I just know I'll get stuck with a cliffhanger that will take at least half a decade to continue, much less resolve.

Kelly K In regards to your criticism of the usage of nuncle in place of uncle, only the Ironborn use the term. I would say Martin used it emphasize cultural differences and found it quite clever. Though I agree this book was weak in comparison to the first three installments plot wise, I absolutely disagree that the prose was any worse.

message 22: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Kelly wrote: "In regards to your criticism of the usage of nuncle in place of uncle, only the Ironborn use the term. I would say Martin used it emphasize cultural differences and found it quite clever. Though I ..."

I understand that nuncle is used to distinguish the Ironborn. My point was that this is the first book it starts popping up in, though the Ironborn have been around. As a cultural signifier, I find it weak, inexplixable, and excruciating to read. As to the prose, we're both entitled to our opinions. I thought it took a severe downtur (as I explained), to the point where it was actual crap in portions (it is riddled with lazy phrasings, repetitons and cliche).

Casey I'm slowly gettting through the book, and someone told me that Crows & Dance with Dragons were actually one book, but it got to be too much, and became two books. Is this right? If they were to be one book, that would have been huge! Anyway, I guess I'm just frustrated with the characters, by process of elimination I think almost anyone could find Sansa, I miss Tyrion and Jon, and really want to know what's happening with them. Was hoping Arya would 'find' Nymeria, but guess she's just lost to the wolves or possibily 'run into' Dany...but that would be a whole other story. Since I've read about so many characters in 3 books, these new ones are really new to me, and somehow I just can't get a grasp of who is who. (Probably just me?) I'm wondering if the characters books 1-3 and book 4, start to blend(mesh? interact?) together in book 5? I will make it through this book!

Diana I loved reading your review, at times more than I did getting through certain bits of Crows. I'll admit to having a Lannister weakness, though, so this book wasn't a lost effort, not at all! I'm also new to ASOIAF, having started reading obsessively on August 5th and I'm halfway through Dance with Dragons (IT DRAGS. I still have hope it will get better!).

In conclusion: GRRM needs a better editor. And to get on with the plot already!

(Next I'll be in my little corner reading Storm forever and ever.)

message 19: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Diana wrote: "I loved reading your review, at times more than I did getting through certain bits of Crows. I'll admit to having a Lannister weakness, though, so this book wasn't a lost effort, not at all! I'm al..."

Thanks, Diana! I wish I could tell you that A Dance With Dragons gets better... But I'll just let you experience that for yourself.

Casey Still waiting for DWD from the library, I'm afraid it may be a while :( Hope it's 'better' or maybe more lively then Crows, that one just made me crazy! But just tell me this should I have really paid closer attention to the 'minor characters' ie one's we hadn't seen before, then I actually did?

message 17: by Matt (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Casey wrote: "Still waiting for DWD from the library, I'm afraid it may be a while :( Hope it's 'better' or maybe more lively then Crows, that one just made me crazy! But just tell me this should I have really..."

You should be fine! Without giving anything away, there are characters in Dragons that might have been mentioned fleetingly in the past, who now have bigger roles. But your reaction to them won't hinge on how closely you've followed GRRM's mythology.

Grace In regards to your criticism of the usage of nuncle in place of uncle, only the Ironborn use the term.

I'm almost positive Jaime uses it. I found it painful to read, too.

Melissa God bless you for this review. I am nearly 300 pages and was about to just give up. I was still waiting for Tyrion, Jon, and Dany to appear. Guess I will slug this one out and get ready to read Dragons.

Ginny I haven't finished this book yet, but I had to take a look and see if other people had the problems with it that I'm having. This was a wonderful, insightful, spot-on review. I feel like since I didn't have to wait five years for it to come out, I'm able to critique it just as one of the books in the series without that expectation hanging over my head, much like you said. Having said that, I would've been pissed in 2005, I think.

message 13: by Linda (new)

Linda I haven't read AFFC yet - still on ASOS and wondering whether to continue with the series - but thoroughly enjoyed this review. Thanks.

Sherry " 700 pages of B-side," my thoughts exactly.

Richard Superb review. "700 pages of B-side" hit the point perfectly and made me snarf my seltzer.

Aline You've said everything I wanted to say and some more.
I'm about three quarters through with Feast and it feels like it's been dragging on forever. I mean, it took me less to read all of Storm than half of Feast!
Brienne's chapters are pointless and infuriating, Cersei is slowly losing it, Arya is just going as far as she can get from home and Jamie is maybe the only interesting character we get to know better.
My hopes for Dance are very high indeed.

Richard Stacey I am currently slogging through this book skim reading a lot of pages.. your review hits the nail on the head!

Trina I'm reading Dance now, and since it is back to the characters we missed in Feast, I had forgotten most of what happened until reading this. Btw my fiction professor at Univ of Arkansas (Ellen Gilchrist) said her publisher/agent/someone gave her an advance copy of the 6th book to read/review, and she totally blurted out in class who "wins." She's awesome but I wanted to throttle her on the spot. I won't spoil it though.

Erin Moon This review had me laughing out loud. Spot on, mate.

Shawn Quite possibly the best review I've read for this entry in A Song of Ice and Fire. I haven't even been able to pick up a copy of Dance with Dragons because Feast wore me down so much. I plan on getting to it eventually but I just need a break from Westeros for a while.

message 5: by Juan (new)

Juan Nuñez Awesome review Matt. Very good analysis of why Crows dissappointed so much!

Michelle Hands down best review ever!

Bill Feagin If you thought the cliffhanger at the end of Swords was tough, there are more at the end of Dragons. Things do finally start to pick up in that fifth book, although it takes a while.

message 2: by Alistair (new)

Alistair I am still reading Crows, though I am near enough to the end that there were no spoilers, I would just like to say to matt, that in true Martin fashion your comment was long, though excellent, though under different circumstances I probably would not have read it all.

Mimi Great review - thanks!

back to top