A Feast For Crows: worth the wait

I finished up reading George R. R. Martin’s long-awaited fourth fantasy novel A Feast for Crows today. I’m dying to find out what happens next. The fifth book (A Dance of Dragons) in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series is due out sometime this year, and if it does drop (Martin is notorious for taking his time writing) I may have to break one of my New Year’s Resolutions and buy it.

Every review I’ve read criticizes the fact that this book was split in half; the next installment was originally planned as part of this book, and Martin reworked the story to separate out some storylines in order to tame an unwieldy volume. It was a wise decision; this half is large and complex and I can only imagine what a book twice this size would weigh, let alone how hard it would be to work through.

I mentioned when I picked up the book to read it that I had a hard time getting my bearings and recalling the “who, where and why” of the numerous story lines as they pick up from the first three books (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords). Wikipedia wasn’t quite enough to help me and I ended up re-reading sections of the previous book to refresh my memory.

That was a frustration, but worth the effort. The Song of Ice and Fire series follows hundreds of characters as they live in and fight over the fictional land of Westeros, and the intrigue and machinations of the various families fighting for control of the land is fascinating. Some character’s motives are pure, some are not; some visions and desires are far-seeing and some are not. The chapters move from one character to the next, and the villain you’re despising in one chapter is the narrator you identify with in another. Only you get a glimpse of the big picture, and even then Martin obscures much of it from view. But the part that you can see is pure poetry, and has made me one of Martin’s faithful if impatient fans.

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A Feast for Crows: starting the book

I started reading one of the books I bought with my Barnes and Noble gift cards, A Feast for Crows this week. It’s the fourth book in the fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin. I really enjoy this series because it turns many of the tired fantasy cliches upside down, or simply ignores them. There’s very little magic in the series, and what there is is subtle and in the background. There’s no “farmboy with royal lineage who discovers his personal journey to find the throne while battling a wicked magician who lives in far off mountains,” thank god. Wikipedia gives a better explanation than I could:

A Song of Ice and Fire is set in a fictitious world reminiscent of Europe in the Middle Ages, except for the fact that in this world, seasons can last as long as a decade. Driven by members of the Houses, great and small, the plot is recounted from the perspectives of more than ten main characters and takes place on the continents of Westeros and the eastern continent, the former being the locale of fierce power struggles between several aristocratic families after the death of king Robert Baratheon, who by lineage, marriage and personal relationships had united them all.

The model for the series was England’s Wars of the Roses, and the story follows several different richly-drawn characters on different sides of the struggle. The thing I found compelling was that I sympathized with characters on both sides of the war who would have been allies in other circumstances but who found themselves at odds due to family loyalties and conflicting religious beliefs.

A Feast for Crows is starting pretty slowly for me, because it begins by following some minor characters that I can’t quite remember from the previous books. The gap between the publication of the last novel and this one was large; I read A Storm of Swords in 2002 and am struggling to remember where the series left off. I read over Wikipedia’s summaries, though, and was able to get my bearings, so I have an idea of who and where everyone is.

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