Two years of carnage and warfare have decimated the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros into an uneasy stalemate. After the slaughter of Robb Stark and his men at the atrocity known as the Red Wedding, the assassination of King Joffrey at his own wedding, and the murder of Tywin Lannister, the Hand of the King, it seems that even the laws of hospitality are no longer sacred. With both sides worn out, their enemies have taken advantage of this impasse. The Ironborn have crowned a legendary pirate as their new king and begin pillaging the shores of the west, the Martells of Dorne> seek retribution for the death of their Prince Oberyn, and outlaws are hanging wolves and lions alike all across the Riverlands. And right in the center of this storm of insanity is Cersei>, the Queen Regent, struggling to rule seven kingdoms while still grieving the loss of her son and father, convinced that her enemies are everywhere and that a haunting prophecy may soon be coming true.
After four long books, I’ve come to the conclusion that George RR Martin has a twisted sense of humor. Throughout every volume, he’s killed our favorite characters before our very eyes, thrown us in the middle of the most ambiguous war in all fiction, and turned an incestuous killer into a redeemable anti-hero. But none of this holds a candle to his cruelest joke yet: Making Cersei a POV character.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series and don’t know about Cersei, imagine a four-way cross between Lady Macbeth, Cathy from East of Eden, Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Sarah Palin. She’s ambitious, manipulative, power-hungry, cruel, self-centered, delusional, spiteful, paranoid, has a serious case of penis envy, is a terrible ruler, a worse mother, a shameless whore, and pretty much every bad thing that’s happened in the series can in some shape or form be traced back to her. When I saw her name on top of the first chapter, I was cautiously intrigued. After all, the last book had completely turned my opinion on Jaime around and he was a cold-blooded killer who boned his sister on multiple occasions and got three kids out of it, one of which turned out to be evil incarnate. And even though she doesn’t have a single redeemable bone in her body, all those traits were what made Cersei such an interesting and complex character, so perhaps diving into her psyche would turn the tables a bit and make her more sympathetic.
Turns out my reaction was the complete opposite.
I understand that repetition is an important weapon in any poet’s arsenal, but sometimes writers tend to drive the point home a little too much, and this was definitely the case with Cersei’s chapters. Basically they were all variations of the same points: Cersei is not as competent of a leader as she thought she was, and a combination of grief for the death of her son and father, obsessive suspicion that her brother killed both and is after her next, fear of an old, albeit vague prophecy coming true, overwhelming stress from her new position of power, paranoia, and a fragile ego are all piling up and waiting for her inevitable downfall. This sounds like the makings for an intriguing, complex character study of a developed, psychotic mind cracking under pressure, right? Well it would be if they actually decide to go anywhere with it. And while I have grown accustomed to George RR Martin’s knack for buildup, here my patience was starting to wear thin, and all it did was make me hate her more and more as the book went on.
But this wouldn’t be so bad if Cersei wasn’t the main focus of the book. Sure, we got to see some great chapters following Jaime, Brienne, Arya and others, but everything always comes back to her. We’re introduced to new characters who only get one chapter, or plot lines that show promise early on but get dropped pretty quickly and aren’t picked up until you nearly forgot about them. Whenever I’m trudging through yet another chapter of Cersei’s sanity slipping, in the back of my head I’m thinking “Why has Arya only gotten three chapters so far?”, or “Whatever happened to Arriane’s plot to use Princess Myrcella to get revenge for Oberyn’s death?”, or “When are we going to see the Ironborn raid some more?”. And when I’m reading those chapters where those things aren’t happening, the only thing running through my mind is “Yes, we get it! Cersei is a paranoid bitch. You made that point perfectly clear the last sixteen chapters. How many times do you have to drill that point in, Martin?” (Insert obvious Monty Python joke here.)
Now I know what you’re thinking. “What about Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys? Aren’t they in this book too?” No, actually. An unusual thing about A Feast For Crows is that it’s a lot more focused than its predecessors, focusing mainly in south Westeros, primarily in King’s Landing (which, need I remind you, is where she lives). With the exception of Samwell and Arya’s stories, all plots taking place in the North, beyond the Wall and across the Narrow Sea are pushed aside. So that mean no Jon, no Tyrion, no Daenerys, no Bran, no Davos, none of them. On one hand this is a good thing. Like I said, it gives the book a better focus, and more importantly, it keeps it short (or at least short compared to the rest of the series). Both A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons take place immediately after A Storm of Swords, but because George RR Martin realized he had too many plot lines to fit into one book, he had to divide it two: One in King’s Landing, and one for everywhere else.
While the book was a pain in the ass to get through, it still had its moments. The last 200 or so pages of the book were a major pickup in pace from the rest, and made me remember that the Song of Ice and Fire series is all about buildup and payoff. And while A Feast For Crows didn’t have nearly as much buildup as Clash of Kings or Storm of Swords did, the payoff was nonetheless incredibly satisfying. Was it worth going through all of that? Some of it was, but it still left the empty feeling that something wasn’t right. Again, a lot of payoff for little buildup.
All in all, A Feast For Crows is a flawed book, and without a doubt my least favorite volume in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of good things about it, but it insisted on dancing around old issues and treading the beaten path in circles several times over. Of course this all applies to one plot line in particular, but it was the book’s main focus and it distracted from other, more interesting plots, and that was enough to really bog it down for me. I understand that it was a necessary evil to divide this part of the series into two books, but here’s hoping that A Dance With Dragons makes up for this disappointing adventure.