Dale's Reviews > A Feast for Crows

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
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's review
Aug 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: a-song-of-ice-and-fire
Read in August, 2009

** spoiler alert ** Beach Books on a Bus 2 continues ...!!!

I held off on reading volume four of A Song of Ice and Fire for as long as I could, knowing that volume five has not yet been published, but I do love reading epic fantasies while on the beach or on vacation generally, so I couldn't let Beach Books go by and leave this one on the shelf.

There really aren't any revelations in this book, which I'm giving as solid a four-star rating as I gave the previous three volumes. Martin continues to build up more and more corners of his rich, multi-faceted world. His style continues to be enjoyable. The story continues to be well-plotted and unpredictable. I'm still onboard for the theoretical final three volumes that will finish off the series, even if I have no idea how the story is ultimately going to end.

I've been thinking a lot lately (or, maybe, as always) about genre fiction and how it differs from literature. I heard an interesting distinction made the other day - genre fiction (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.) tends to line up good guys on one side and bad guys on the other very early on, and the reader/viewer knows how the story is going to end, with good guys and bad guys battling it out and good ultimately triumphant. The fun, if there's any to be had, is in how the author gets to the end. 'Serious' literature complicates things by either dispensing with the good guy/bad guy dichotomy altogether, or at least shading things with more gray, making the bad guys sympathetic and the good guys flawed. Of course, genre fiction also tends to involve fantastical elements, whether it's elves or Death Stars or vampires or what have you, and serious literature usually doesn't, but that's really just trappings. Because fantasy and good guys/bad guys often show up together, just like ambiguous and complicated stories tend to eschew fantastical elements - but not always. On the one hand you can have literature with fantasy elements that gets taken seriously - Slaughterhouse Five, or One Hundred Years of Solitude - and on the other hand you can have a totally grounded real-world story that's as trashy as a Saturday morning cartoon. I know I've been guilty of making the automatic dragons = dumb association, so it was good to be reminded that you really have to look at the nature of the dragons.

I bring this up because it's fairly compelling to me to observe and try to figure out what exactly Martin is up to in his epic. The series starts off pretty squarely in the genre realm: the reader meets the Stark family, and they're obviously the good guys, as well as the Lannister family, and they're obviously the bad guys, and the Lannisters do more and more terrible things and it seems pretty obvious that everything will come to a head when the Starks ultimately vanquish the Lannisters. And then, over the course of 4000 pages ... things get weird. Patriarch Ned Stark gets murdered, but that feels like a normal fairy-tale thing to happen because it gives his son Robb a real stake in the game. But eventually Robb, who seems on course to become the king, also gets murdered, as does Robb's mother. So what seemed like a story about Robb's quest for vengeance and the throne now must be about ... what? His bastard brother Jon? His spoiled sister Sansa, or his tomboyish sister Arya, or his crippled (by the Lannisters, of course) brother Bran? All of the surviving Stark children are off having adventures, but none seem to be the central focus of the book. Meanwhile, Tywin Lannister is murdered by his own son Tyrion, his other son Jaime is on something of a redemption arc which no one will give him credit for, his daughter Cersei - evilest Lannister of all - sees one son-who-would-be-king murdered and remains determined to keep his younger brother in power, but by the end of book four has suffered a terrible reversal of fortune. The showdown between Lannisters and Starks that seemed fore-ordained in book one is all but evaporated by the mid-point ... which makes me wonder, is Martin playing a bait and switch? Did he set up one showdown, then knock it down to swerve the audience, only to clear the way for a different and more melodramatic showdown when we finally get to volume seven? Or is he actually flaunting the conventions of genre fiction altogether, starting the audience off in a familiar direction but willfully subverting expectations as he goes along? Or, does even Martin himself not know where this is all headed - is he making it up as he goes along? It really is like he's writing a gargantuan 8,000 - 10,000 page saga, and releasing it in 1/7 pieces, which makes it very hard to judge any single book. But I'll probably break the character limit on my review of the final installment (if Martin lives long enough to write it and I live long enough to read it).

One last funny aside - after I had finished the third volume of the series, I found Martin's website/blog and saw he had posted three preview chapters of the in-progress volume five. I didn't read them at the time, because I hadn't even read volume four yet. But I saw the links, and the chapter names gave away some information themselves - because each chapter is told from the perspective of, and named for, a character, I knew that the three preview chapters represented three characters who at the very least survived through volume four. Now that I've finished volume four, I realize that I needn't have worried about spoilers. Those three characters - Tyrion, Jon Snow, and Daenerys - are popular and arguably important to the plot, but none of them has a chapter in volume four. They remain safely offstage for the entire book. Which, when I'm in a cynical mood, does reinforce my beliefs that (a) Martin is making this all up as he goes along, and so distracted by his own tangents he can skip crucial characters for thousands of pages at a time, and (b) that Martin is in fact never going to finish the series, just keep tangenting and tangenting in infinite fractals. We shall see.

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07/28/2009 page 400

Comments (showing 1-2)

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Nathan Buchanan After having had a couple years to think about it since AFFC came out, I now firmly believe Daenerys, Tyrion, and Jon Snow are being set up as THE major characters of the remaining books. Their "stories" have consistenly been some of the best chapters in the books thus far, Martin would be a fool waste his own favorite characters in a bait and swtich. Robb and the other Stark siblings, although interesting, never had half as much "meat" as Jon Snow.

As far as Martin making it up as he goes it's an unfortunate mix of yes and no. He was supposed to skip a chunk of time between book 3 and 4, but decided against it later on. Part of the issue may well be trying to fill in the missing time AND still finish in three more books. So he had a plan, heavily changed it, and has been stuck trying to patch it up in the years since. I'm sure that's been part of the delay with ADWD.

Dale Interesting points! I suspect you are right about the big three - Jon is arguably on the closest thing to the traditional hero's path, and he has been prominently featured all along. Tyrion and Daenerys are interesting because I find both of them not just fascinating but very sympathetic and likable, even though both are (arguably) playing villain roles in the story. Again, it's complicated, and I'm going to give Martin the benefit of the doubt and assume he's making the villain characterization complicated on purpose. But it also raises another question in my mind - who is going to be the Big Bad in the finale? The essentially personality-free Others? A minor player like Melisandre? Someone we haven't even seen yet?

I'm off to scour teh internets for clues and possible ADWD release dates ...

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