Feast For Crows Reread
After the wild ride that was Storm of Swords, Feast For Crows is a kind of let down.
It’s clear that this was not supposed to be the stand alone novel. It feels like once there were enough threads pulled out of the Gordian Knot Martin found himself in, he braided them together, called it Feast For Crows, released it, and then settled down to conquer the main plot while we were feasting on the leftovers. While these story lines make for a decent novel, they’re not really the heart of the series as we’ve been led to understand it.
When Book 1: Game of Thrones threw us all for a major curve by killing off what the reader assumed was the protagonist, Martin made quick work of assuring us that no, that was just one set of eyes–the real story is actually over in the hands of Jon and Dany and Tyrion, and not to worry. When it comes to Feast For Crows, he takes no such measures. Jon, Dany and Tyrion are just absent, with no real excuses or explanation. More importantly, nothing we are given has the narrative thrust to take their place. Sansa and Arya are the only POVs that carry through from the original novel, but neither of them have very much to do. One’s dithering up in the Eyrie, while the other is hanging out over across the Narrow Sea. They don’t do anything that has baring on the main plot. By the end of the novel their chapters aren’t even titled under their own names, but that of the aliases they’ve assumed. Thankfully, as we wrap up, each has reached the end of their holed-up-ness and are ready to move on and actually do something, you know, in the next book. (Which, if Dance with Dragons is really the other half of Feast For Crows, means we won’t see them again until Winds of Winter.)
Jaime and Samwell are here, but they were only introduced as POV characters during the last book, Storm of Swords. The other nine POVs are all new and, with the exception of Cersei and Brienne, only get a chapter or two at most, robbing us of any chance to emotional connect with them. I felt the plot lines of Dorne and the Iron Islands were especially ill-served by their lack of a single character POV. Up until now, we’ve spent little-to-no time exploring these places, and the inability to see it through only one character’s eyes gives both the air of spending time with “extras shipped in from The Department of Backstory.” Both of these plot lines have interesting factoids we’re going to need later, but nothing occurs that contains the heft necessary to makes them feel like the time we’re spending with them is worth an entire book devoid of our main characters.
If the Iron Isle had just stuck with seeing everything through the eyes of, say, Damphair, rather than jumping for Greyjoy to Greyjoy to Greyjoy (recappers agree, there are Too Many Greyjoys), the amount of time we spend furthering that part of the universe along might feel more substantive. The Kingsmoot held to replace Theon’s father holds an important plot point. A horn that supposedly can command dragons is introduced, as is the first set of characters who are seriously considering making a concerted effort to cross the Narrow Sea and do something about intersecting their plot line with these dragons of Dany’s. Meanwhile, we finally see the southern desert world that is Dorne. (As an aside, my first reaction was that the set they used for King’s Landing in the HBO Game of Thrones should have been saved for Dorne, and King’s Landing left to look more Southern France pastoral. But never mind.) Again, if Martin had found a way to show all the Dorne chapters through, say, Arianne’s eyes, instead of jumping from Guard A to Guard B, we might have had a chance to emotionally connect with someone who, for all of her two chapters, seems to be a pretty sympathetic person. The Dorne story line holds an important revelation–namely that it’s an entire subsection of the continent whose royal house is still holding their breath for the Targaryens to return, and they have someone actively trying to meet up with Dany. For the record, Arianne should send the Dothraki a thank you gift for killing Viserys, who she was apparently secretly betrothed to all this time. Horselords did that girl a solid.
As for three or four story lines we do actually care about, or at least care more about than say, 101 Greyjoys, we are rewarded with Samwell, Brienne, Jaime and, Introducing! You all know and hate her! For the first time ever, here she is folks! The point of view of Jaime’s Sweet Sister, Cersei! Let’s take these in order.
Samwell is sent from the wall by Jon to go forge his Maester’s chain in Oldtowne. He’s sent with Gilly and her baby, Maester Aemon, and some random Blackcloak who turns out to be a redshirt. Along the way, we find out Gilly’s “son” is actually the Wildling King’s son, and her own son is back at the Wall. They were switched to keep the Wildling King’s son safe. We also learn Maester Aemon has been waiting his whole life to see the Dragons come back, but he’s dying by the time they make the stop-over in Braavos and he learns they are here. Sam has a random run in with Arya as she treads water in her plot line (and is the catalyst for her plot line to finally move forward when she kills the Blackcloak redshirt.) He also falls in love with Gilly, and then lands in Oldtowne to intersect with the maester novice characters we met in the prologue, setting them off to quest for Dany and dragons as well. There’s a lot of people who set off to find Dany at the end of the novel. Again, if Dance With Dragons is actually the other half of Feast For Crows, they’ll all meet again in Winds of Winter.
Brienne has no interest in Dany or her dragons, or crossing the Narrow Sea. She is on a quest from Jaime with his Valyrian steel sword to go find Sansa/Arya. While on the road she adopts Tyrion’s old squire Pod, has run-ins with Robert’s bastard son Gendry and Samwell’s father Lord Tarly, as well as what’s left of Hoat’s Goats. In the end she is captured and taken before Lady Stoneheart, who turns out to be Zombie Catelyn. Zombie Catelyn thinks Brienne has betrayed her (since Brienne hasn’t managed to turn up either Arya or Sansa) and being a zombie doesn’t have time or patience to listen to the nuances of what Brienne’s been through. The last we see of Brienne she’s being strung up on a tree. But since characters have a tendency in this novel not to stay dead after dying….
Jaime and Cersei also have no interest in tales of dragons from the other continent. They are the real plotmeat of the novel. I forget who said it in a previous book, but someone (perhaps it was Littlefinger?) said that Cersei wants power, but once she gets it, she has no idea what to do with it. That pretty much boils down her chapters. I remembered the pity I felt for her character the first time I read her chapters, but not her painful unself-awareness. The woman is more like her late husband Robert than she knows. She wants the power, but not the bother of actually ruling. She thinks she’s being clever, but her choices of whom to trust and who to use are sad, when they’re not outright foolish. (The business with trying and failing to have someone kill Tyrion’s old sellsword Bronn is so hilarious, I only hope they put it on screen for season 4, rather than have it be a tale told later.) She’s extremely short-sighted in her decision-making–she’s thinking about today, not what affect her decisions will have two, three or ten steps down the road. She alienates everyone who could have been useful to her, including her Uncle Kevan, and her twin Jaime. She arms the Religious Faithful as a throw away decision to get some silly pageantry for her 7-year-old son Tommen, completely blind to the fact that she’s just armed a competing power. She’s obsessed with a prophesy given to her as a child that she will be deposed by a Queen younger and more beautiful than she, so she spends awful amounts of energy trying to get Margaery (Joffrey’s widow, who is now her son Tommen’s 16 year old wife) on trumped-up charges of sleeping with men. The faithful take the bait and lock up Margaery, but upon torturing people to get the truth, stumble upon confessions of Cersei’s sleeping around (pots really shouldn’t call the kettle black), so they lock her up too.
Cersei sends to Jaime to beg for help, but his own character arc to worry about. Jaime is turning out to be a decent egg. Having lost his sword hand, his first love(& sister), his father, his brother and everything his privileged status had given him, he’s left with nothing but trying to not break his oaths. He spends the first half of the novel trying to clean up after Cersei in King’s Landing, and then the second out on the road trying to obey his orders to finish off the Starks, without breaking his oath to Catelyn to not take up arms against them. The fact that he manages to carry out all that, all while teaching himself to fight lefthanded, is a testament to his hard work, determination and cleverness. For all his past faults–the lying, the incest, the regicide, the attempted murder of small defenseless children–Jaime is finally finding himself and finding his way to being a good person. When his sister’s letter reaches him, begging him to bail her out of her own stupidity, instead of dropping everything and running back to who he was, he throws it in the fire. Good for him.
So that’s where we stand as we reach the end of Feast For Crows, along with a note from Martin promising the “other half of the story” next year, Christmas 2006.
Or you know, 2011. Tomorrow!