After the thrilling third installment of “A Song of Ice and Fire” I was excited to jump back into Martin’s exciting and expansive world. Part of the fun of the series is how it jumps from wildly different point of views. You come to know and love characters whose goals are completely opposed to each other. As soon as one story gets to a harrowing or crucial point you are thrown into another and by the time you get back to the first story you are desperate to get back to the one you left it for. It makes reading a thrilling roller coaster of high and lows.
Unfortunately, as Martin explains in an apologetic post-script, there is no such fun to be had in this book. The book was apparently too long in its original form (it already clocks in at a healthy 700 pages). The story had to be split. Martin decided to split it by putting half the characters in one and half in the other. It was a fatal mistake.
I am not sure if the mistake lies in the choice to split the point of views or in how the points of view were distributed. When last we left John Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Catelyn Tully, Tyrion Lannister, and Sansa Stark were all at crucial points. In “A Feast For Crows” we see Sansa a couple of times and that is all. The vast majority of the story is from Cersei’s point of view. Either Cersei is scheming, complaining, and torturing the innocent or we are hearing Jamie complain about how she is doing it. The book also devotes time to female knight Brienne’s futile quest to find Sansa Stark.
I’ll be honest, everyone hates Cersei the Queen Regent of Westeros. She is a terrible human being. In other books I couldn’t wait to get through her part just to get away from how incredibly evil she is. It was completely dreadful to have to drag myself through 300 pages of her moping, hating everyone, and being downright evil towards everyone including her own children. And then as an added bonus I got to hear more about her from Jamie! When it comes to Brienne, I don’t mind her but she isn’t one of my favorite characters. I certainly did not want to sit through her attempt to solve a mystery the audience already knows the answer to. Although I did enjoy how through Brienne the audience gets to see the plight of the “small folk” or peasants.
The occasional visits from Samwell and Arya were welcome respites and were brief moments of light in this dismal book. I did enjoy the increasing presence of Iron Islands’ royal family and was disappointed that they dropped off for most of the book. Littlefinger was brilliant as always and the drama surrounding the Eyrie was the standout of this book.
Overall I found this book frustrating. The bits of light were surrounded by a dull sea of “who cares.” Martin’s attempt to radically restructure his novel did not go well and readers will suffer for it. I am hoping this series will pick up in the next book and it has built up enough of a rapport that I will keep going. If you liked the first three books I recommend continuing the series, but brace yourself because as Martin says in his introduction “this one’s a bitch.”