Well, I finished it – and yes, it was entertaining at times. Unlike Outlander and other series, the books in A Song of Ice and Fire don’t vary much from one another in quality or in general mood. All of them are good but highly dilute. To get through the good, one has to wade through any number of swamps. The characters in this series just spend so much time traveling from place to place and/or plotting things alone or with one other character that the actual conflicts between characters are relatively infrequent.
But here’s the good news about A Feast for Crows: WINTER FINALLY COMES. Snow fell someplace or other and now it is officially winter. Since the next installment is set on and around the Wall – where for all practical purposes it’s been winter since A Clash of Kings, I am looking forward to finally learning what happens during winter.
More good news: at the end of this novel Cersei Lannister is stripped naked and put in a prison cell. She spent this entire novel plotting the downfall of Margaery Tyrell and various other members of the Tyrell family, and she has now been exposed for the malignity she is. I didn’t enjoy the Cersei chapters one bit, although we did learn some useful information that helps explain her character. Specifically, when she was a girl she visited a fortune teller named “Maggy the Frog,” who foretold that Cersei would be queen but would later be supplanted by another, younger queen (this explains her hatred for Margaery) and that she herself would be killed by her “little brother,” which explains a great deal about her hatred of Tyrion. I enjoyed this backstory, but ultimately I don’t know if we really “needed” it to understand Cersei’s character. We’ve always known that she is vicious and power-mad and unscrupulous and narcissistic, and we really don’t learn anything new from the Maggy the Frog episode. I suppose we’re supposed to feel sorry for her because she lives in fear and because she has no real power of her own – but this novel didn’t change my attitude toward Cersei at all. I still find her horrible, but in boring ways.
Other developments in this installment: Brienne either dies and then is reborn as a “wight” or whatever OR just sustains some terrible injuries and then is taken care of by a bunch of wights, including Catelyn Stark, who became a wight after the Red Wedding and is now known as Lady Stoneheart. Jaime ends the novel at Riverrun, where he is trying to put the house in order after the Tullys lost Riverrun to the Lannisters. Jaime is also secretly training with Ser Ilyn so he can learn how to fight with his left hand. The deep shame Jaime feels after he loses his hand, as well as the way he moves through this shame to make something better out of it, is one of my favorite things about this novel. I wish R.R. characterized everyone this well.
Sam Tarly has finally made it to Oldtown, where he is going to be studying to be a maester. He is deeply conflicted because he has fallen in love with Gilly but is determined to keep his vow not to marry. During his journey from the Wall, Maester Aemon Targaryen dies, but not before he identifies Daenerys and her dragons as the fulfillment of a prophecy. He insists that Sam send a master to find Daenerys and guide her as she returns to Westeros to reclaim her family’s position. We don’t see Daenerys in action in this book – though her dragons are oft discussed – but I have a feeling she will not accept the guidance of a maester as graciously as Aemon hopes.
Sansa and Arya Stark are both in hiding. Arya is in Braavos under the pseudonym of “Cat of the Canals,” and Sansa is in the Eyrie under the pseudonym of “Alayne Stone.” R.R. gives each sister a chapter under her own name early in the novel, but their later chapters are listed under their pseudonyms. This is new – Arya has been in hiding under false names often, but never before has the novel itself called her by anything other than her given name. This is a sign that both girls have undergone permanent, identity-defining changes as a result of their experiences. Oh, and Arya is blind. She just wakes up one day and is blind.
I was generally uninterested in the chapters about the Greyjoy family and was happy when these chapters became less frequent later in the novel. However, they were replaced by chapters about the Martell family in Dorne, and these were even less interesting to me. The Martells are currently fostering Myrcella Baratheon, and a Dornish princess named Arianne is scheming to get Myrcella crowned as queen. Arianne is locked in the tower to prevent her from carrying out her plans.
So there we go. I’m happy to be done and also eager to start A Dance with Dragons, mainly because I want to be done with the whole series but also because I want to see where Tyrion is and what he’s doing. I’ll be in touch with an update soon.