Wednesday, June 18, 2014

“A Feast for Crows” Is Cersei’s Wicked Tale

I saved this review until after the finale of season 4 of HBO’s Game of Thrones because there is no way to discuss A Feast for Crows without spoiling the most shocking part of the final episode. So, if you haven’t seen Season 4 of Game of Thrones or haven’t read A Storm of Swords, be forewarned that BIG *spoilers* lie ahead.

I had read that A Feast for Crows is many fans’ least favorite book in George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire, and I can understand why. Due to length, Martin had to split his sequel to A Storm of Swords into two volumes that take place at the same time. He broke them up geographically, and as a result, the stories of fan-favorite characters like Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Tyrion are left for the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. But there is plenty in A Feast for Crows to make it a very good read, even if it’s not as shocking as A Storm of Swords or as climactic as A Clash of Kings.

Most of A Feast for Crows deals with the aftermath of Tywin Lannister’s death, though at its heart this book is Cersei Lannister’s tale. She’s determined to rule all of Westeros as queen regent, fancying herself as a master of the “game of thrones,” even greater than her late father. But her brother Jaime probably puts it best: “Their father had been as relentless and implacable as a glacier, where Cersei was all wildfire, especially when thwarted.” And the novel bears this out. Cersei is a dangerous disaster, and her list of perceived enemies is long, including all of House Tyrell (with extra venom for the Queen of Thorns), her uncle Kevan, her brother Tyrion—and Jaime to some extent—the sellsword Bron, Varys the Spider, Grand Maester Pycelle, and even the High Septon. All of this makes Cersei into a fitting replacement for Joffrey as the character that readers will love to hate.

The most interesting early revelation about Cersei in this book is her fixation on an old witch’s prophecy: “Queen you shall be,” said the witch, “until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down . . .” Cersei’s obsession over this prophecy sets up a major conflict between her and her young son Tommen’s pretty new wife-to-be, Margaery Tyrell. It also leads to the novel’s stunning climax—one that will leave you pining for The Winds of Winter to see how it all ends!

While Cersei’s story steals the show, Jaime’s develops in satisfying fashion as he tries to wrap up the war Robb Stark started after Ned Stark’s death. Truth be told, I’ve found Jaime Lannister to be one of the more likable characters in the series of late. And it’s easy to forget he threw a seven-year-old Bran Stark out a window in the early chapters of the first book.

Separate from the stories of Jaime and Cersei, the book follows Brienne’s quest to find Sansa Stark, Arya’s journey across the Narrow Sea, Sansa’s time in the Eyrie after her aunt’s murder, and Sam’s journey to the Maesters’ Citadel with Gilly and Maester Aemon after Jon orders them to leave The Wall for Aemon’s safety. (As Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon’s fears that King Stannis’ priestess, Lady Melisandre, might kill the old Targaryen to use his royal blood in one of her spells.) Arya has been one of my favorite characters in the series, but her scenes in this book are a bit of a letdown. That said, Martin is clearly setting up something big for her, but it’s hard to tell where her story is leading. Sansa’s tale is also a bit ho-hum, yet through it Martin reveals the purpose behind Littlefingeer’s elaborate plots. In short, it looks like Littlefinger may be the true master of the “game of thrones.”

In addition to these tales, the novel includes two other storylines, both of which are pretty good. The first involves the Ironborn after the death of Balon Greyjoy and the struggle over who will replace him on the Seastone Chair. The second—which was totally unexpected—concerns the land of Dorne and the daughters and niece of Oberyn Martell, all of whom want vengeance against the Lannister’s after Oberyn’s death at King’s Landing. Except the family’s patriarch, Doran Martell, has very different plans.

Overall, most of this book is setup for what promises to be a dramatic series of events in The Winds of Winter. No storyline is resolved, and the novel ends with a MAJOR cliffhanger. I’ll admit that one of the storylines had me furious at Martin, for it seemed like he led a significant character to a senseless and overly cruel death. I was so angry, I jumped onto the internet to see if that was, in fact, this character’s end. Fortunately, it may not be, and it sets up yet another cliffhanger that longs for resolution (so GRRM is totally forgiven – for now).

In the end, I too ended up liking A Feast for Crows less than the first three books. But the stories involving Cersei and Jamie were so well done, it’s ultimately a very good read.


Bill said...

Martin has driven a lot of us crazy, Joe. He violates the "rules" with abandon. You've mentioned the story lines that seem to start, go nowhere, and disappear. There's just something that keeps us hooked.

Joseph Finley said...

He does do something right. I imagine the show won't be able to keep up with his "character soup," however. Even I'm having a hard problem, and I'm highlighting on the kindle as I go along!