Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Feast For Crows

And so my obsessive binge on George R. R. Martin books comes to an end with A Feast For Crows. And now the series has hit a metaphorical wall (oh, the irony of that statement, seeing how little the book had to do with the Wall or what lies beyond it, but I digress...).

This time, Martin spends a lot of his energy focused on the Lannister twins, Cersei and Jaime. Others briefly flit across the stage, sometimes sporadically, but the chief focus is on the Queen and the Kingslayer. Cersei does her best to tighten her grip on King's Landing, striving to stay one step ahead of the myriad foes she senses around her. And Jaime does his best to redeem himself as the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.

Other things happen in the book. Samwell Tarly leaves the Wall for Oldtown, only to get stuck on Braavos. There he unwittingly meets Arya Stark, who seems to have taken up residence in a Temple where they're teaching her ... well, I'm assuming how to be an assassin, although that's not always entirely clear. The Ironborn of the Iron Islands make a lot of noise in the beginning of the book about who their new king will be. They make their choice, the king has some crazy ideas about what he's going to do with his driftwood crown, and then they promptly disappear. And, of course, there is Brienne, the Maid of Tarth, on her quest for Sansa Stark, who is posing as Petyr Baelish's "natural daughter."

I'm not as enthused about this book or the series as a whole as I might have been. When I read the first book, the endless plots and counterplots, mysteries and twists, all of it added up to a wild ride that kept me guessing (i.e. "The seed is strong" and what, exactly, those words signified). The second book was pretty good too, with the whole of Westeros at war with itself, with even more twists and turns, even more plots. The third book lost some more steam, especially after the Red Wedding.

Now we have the fourth book and, let's be honest, it's not that good. I think part of the problem is Martin's complete lack of sentimentality when it comes to his characters. Don't get me wrong, you want to smash your characters against a wall. You want them to break, to crumble. Killing a few even makes for compelling reading. But here's the problem: over the past four books, Martin culled the field too sharply. All the noble characters are dead. And the ones that interested me weren't present in this book except when they're mentioned in passing. As a result, there really wasn't anyone to root for except for maybe Jaime Lannister. Jaime's redemption into a somewhat honorable individual has been interesting, so gradual that I didn't realize I was coming to root for him a little. But since most of Martin's attention was lavished on the completely irredeemable Cersei, Jaime's attempts at heroism wasn't enough.

Part of my complaint stems from the way Martin structured the story. According to a note at the end of the book, Martin decided to tell "all the story for half the characters rather than half the story for all the characters." That makes sense, but he lumped his sympathetic characters together. As despicable as Tyrion Lannister is, his quick wit and keen insights kept me reading. I keep rooting for Dany. And while I saw Jon Snow's elevation to Lord Commander of the Night's Watch coming, I wanted to see what he'd do with it. Like I said, none of those people ever spent any time on-stage in this book. I guess I'll have to wait to learn what happened to them.

We also have the seeming lack of twists and turns. The first two books were riotous in the plots and counterplots. The third book had a few surprises as well. But Crows, not so much. Yes, there were two surprises at the end that made me go, "Huh." But it was "huh," not "whoa." Big difference.

So I guess I'd better settle in and wait. Apparently Martin has had to delay the release of the next book for whatever reason. I don't fault him for that. I can't imagine trying to coordinate this massive and complex a story in a coherent way. But I won't be waiting quite as eagerly as I thought I might.

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