On A Feast for Crows


Another week, another Song of Ice and Fire book down. I’ve been enjoying my trek across the literary world of Westeros as much as I’ve liked the show, but I was a little scared to get to the fourth book, A Feast for Crows.

Everyone from Unreality commenters to Amazon reviews seemed to indicate that after A Storm of Swords, things go a bit downhill in Crows and its quasi-sequel A Dance with Dragons. What could have possibly gone so wrong to have sparked this sort of discomfort among fans?

The main issue with these next two books was told to me beforehand, but George RR Martin waits until the end of the novel to explain, which I would imagine confused a great deal of readers when the book was new.

He says that the book he wanted to write was simply too long, and he couldn’t fit it all together. And if something is too long for George “900 page minimum” Martin, you know it was pretty hefty. But that’s fine. That happens with stories some time. Pick a good break point and release two separate books, right?

Well, that’s not what Martin had in mind. Rather, he decided that he should tell the complete stories of only half the characters. He cherrypicked through the major characters and decided that ones like Cersei, Jaime, Arya, Sam and Sansa would be in this book, while Bran, Jon, Tyrion, Stannis and Daenerys would be in the next.


An  Ice and Fire book without Tyrion and Varys? Come on!

The problems with this format should be obvious. What it would indicate is that there will be literally almost no crossover between the characters in this book and the ones in the other. The series is known for splitting its cast up, but telegraphing ahead of time that “you will never see Tyrion in the book” is a poor way to organize a story. A main issue with Martin’s books is that the characters can often seem very disconnected from one another, and this split only serves to amplify that to an annoying degree.

But it’s not the format that’s the only problem, it’s the content as well. If these stories were separate but still as riveting as the past books for the respective characters involved, that would probably work. I can only speak for A Feast for Crows so far, but it just is not the case. The books are light on action and major, significant events, and heavy on rounding out the world which may be already a bit too big for its own good.

Martin also broke from the usual by introducing what I’ll call “sub-POVs” which are lesser than the “main POVs” we see of the characters we all know and love. Soon enough in the book, you learn that when a chapter is not titled by a character you know, and instead something like “The Reaver,” or “The Priest” or “The Princess,” that you’re about to be in for a boring, often pointless section.

These unnamed POVs do have names, but they’re entirely relegated to two camps, Dorne and Pyke. Each plot feels like its own little substory that has naught to do with anything else going on, nor do the stories feature any characters we’ve seen before, save a few.

The Pyke story focuses on the Ironmen trying to pick a new king which is a terribly dull affair. Only later does the plotline evolve significantly when the Iron Islands start to lay siege to the Tyrell’s home turf of Highgarden. The Dorne story is even worse, switching viewpoints between a guard captain, a Kingsguard member and a Dornish princess. The story here has something to do with Cersei’s daughter Myrcella and Dorne trying to make a power play against the crown. Pieces are shuffled around, but nothing comes of it, and hilariously, I don’t think the Lannisters had any idea what was going on down there the entire time.


I also find it exceedingly strange that Theon has simply disappeared completely from the last two books.

These plots just didn’t seem necessary, and if they were, they should have picked a singular character and stuck with them for the duration instead of jumping around into the heads of different people, something Martin has never done up until this point. These two plotlines felt mostly like filler, extra pieces shoved into the story when Martin realized his half a book wasn’t long enough.

Elsewhere, even among the main characters, the book is missing the sort of defining, astonishing moments that were scattered all throughout a Storm of Swords. No truly major characters die, and the subcharacters that do are offed outside of the narrative.

It’s revealed that the Hound died of his wounds after Arya left him in the last book, which is an oddly handled departure for a character that seemed like he was on a road to redemption. Beric Dondarrion finally meets his final end, but it’s not explained how that came about. The Mountain dies rotting from Dornish poison offscreen. Even the Onion Knight, Ser Davos is said to have been killed and mutilated, though it’s never shown. I imagine that the next book will have some further explanation for a few of these, but it was just strange to have a book merely talk about these character’s deaths rather than actually having us be present for them. And outside of these, there are no gasp moments like we found when Martin offed Eddard Stark, Renly Baratheon, Robb Stark, Joffrey, Tywin or Lysa Arryn.

So what do we have? A lot of scheming and traveling, that’s about it. Outside of the Dornish and Pyke plotlines, the book focuses on Kings Landing, namely how badly Cersei is screwing everything out now that she finally has the power to do whatever she wants. Tywin is dead, Tyrion has fled and the king is a little boy who will sign anything you put in front of him. How hard can it be to rule the realm?

Pretty damn hard apparently, as Cersei spends the first half the book assembling a new small council full of people she can trust, meaning no one that the Tyrells want there. Though she suspects they may have had something to do with Joffrey’s death, it’s never outright revealed, and she’s merely content with trying to foil Maergary at every turn. Cersei screws Kingsguard members (who aren’t her brother) and has a quasi-lesbian fling with her new friend, a hot Myrish noble who helps her with her schemes.


“Well, you’re not a relative or male, but you’ll do.”

Cersei’s biggest mistake is allowing the Faith to rearm themselves. The Sword and Stars used to be an ancient order who carried out the justice of the gods, and Cersei thinks she’s solving a bunch of problems by allowing the group to reassemble to declare war on Stannis, forgive the crown’s debt and get their riff raff out of the city.

Unfortunately, it ultimately leads to her downfall when she tries to use the new High Septon to accuse Maergary of sleeping around, disgracing herself and Tommen. I wasn’t able to figure out if Maergary HAD slept around by the end, but I don’t think she did. Rather, Cersei bribed a Kingsguard member (with her vagina) to say he slept with the younger queen. But when the Septon tortures him, he sings a different tune, one of Cersei putting him up to the lie and then she becomes imprisoned as well. All of this was an attempt to avoid the completion of a prophecy by a maegi in her youth that said a young, beautiful queen would be her downfall. Now that I’m thinking about it, perhaps it was Daenerys the woman spoke of, not Maergary. Cersei is also trying to avoid being strangled to death by her “little brother,” the witch said, but I have a hunch it might be Jaime, not Tyrion who will end up doing the deed. Isn’t she older than him by a little bit, even if they are twins?

Cersei’s last desperate move is to write Jaime to come and be her champion in a trial by combat. He promptly crumples up the letter and burns it, showing how much his relationship with his sister has deteriorated.
The last book made us love Jaime, but here, like many of the other characters this time around, he just seems sort of aimless and lost. He hangs out at King’s Landing for a while, then heads to Riverrun to broker terms for the Tullys to surrender. He trains in order to swordfight with his left hand, but his skills are never put to the test. Which is well and good because he swore and oath to never raise arms against the Tullys or Starks again, and he’s all about keeping oaths now.

Brienne is attempting to keep her oath to both Jaime and Catelyn by tracking down Sansa Stark, with Arya assumed dead. She probably actually has the most exciting trip of anyone, getting in several skirmishes, and reuniting with several other minor characters including Tyrion’s squire Podrick and Gendry, now looking after a group of orphans with Dondarrion’s brotherhood disbanded.

It’s revealed that the red priest Thoros did indeed save Catelyn Stark using his magical life breathing Lord of Light powers, but after being dead for three days after the wedding, it took its toll on her. Now they call her “Stoneheart” and she goes around the countryside hanging Freys and other outlaws. Eventually she starts to hang Brienne and her little posse when she accuses her of being a bad friend by breaking her promise. To save the lives of her and her friends, Brienne must swear that she’ll hunt down Jaime Lannister as her new mission. It’s quite a pickle, and probably the most breathtaking cliffhanger in the story. As she’s being hung, Brienne blurts out a word we don’t get to hear. My guess is the word is “Yes” and now she’ll have to wrestle with this new mission of killing a man she’s actually come to like. One whom she owes her life to, in fact.


Also, she has half her face bitten off. Martin loves making ugly characters uglier.

Sansa is never found by anyone, rather she simply adopts a new identity as Petyr Baelish’s bastard daughter Alayne Stone. Her story revolves around her trying to soothe the impossible “Sweetrobin,” Lord of the Vale, while Littlefinger schemes. He’s quite a bit better at it than Cersei, and manages to talk all the houses of the Vale into letting him run the show, at least for a while. Near the end he reveals that his ultimate plan is to marry Sansa to a man who is Robert’s heir, and when Robert dies (either naturally, or by more nefarious means), he’ll reveal who Sansa really is. He’ll have the power of the Vale in his pocket and a bunch of knights waiting to sweep through the north to reclaim Winterfell, and who knows what else? As I said at the end of Storm of Swords, I think Baelish is one of the biggest players out there, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the strokes of his master plan continue to unfold.

More disconnected than all the rest, but not entirely from each other are the stories of Arya and Sam. Arya has ended up in Braavos and is trying to become a Faceless Man (err, Faceless Girl) by blending into the city and reporting back to her shadowy masters. She doesn’t do much except paint us a nice picture of Braavos, and at one point kill a Night’s Watch deserter because…he’s an asshole I guess?

The asshole was on a ship with Sam, meant to head to Oldtown on Jon Snow’s command. In the boat are Mance Raider’s baby and Aemon Targaryen who Jon wanted sent away so Melisandre couldn’t use their “kingsblood” to work her dark spells. Of course we never see anything that’s happening in the north, so I couldn’t tell you how that went over. In the end, Sam ends up at Maester Headquarters (whatever it’s called), and meets a young novice named Pate. Strange, because Pate was killed in the introduction to this book.

There are a few mysteries to be found in A Feast of Crows by the end, and that’s one of them. At the beginning, this Pate is killed by an unnamed figure posing as an alchemist, trading faux gold for a master key to the Citadel. I’ve heard a theory that the man is actually Jaquen H’gar, because of the way he’s described, which would be very cool indeed. And now, he’s this Pate fellow, having changed his face again. I can only imagine where that’s going to go. Also interesting is how the maester says that something besides knights killed all the dragons way back when.


But they’re sooo cute!

Elsewhere, I was curious as to what Cersei’s new whisper master Qyburn was doing with all those donated bodies in the black cells. He’s ordered a set of armor reportedly too big for any man to wear, and keeps talking about some great warrior that he can command. My theory is that he’s taken the body of the Mountain (his head is shipped elsewhere) and reinforced it with other humans created one undead super warrior somehow. Seems far fetched, but anything is possible these days.

This next bit might not be a mystery, but I was confused by it. Ser Loras is sent to Dragonstone, and the report back is that he won the battle, but was horrifically injured in the process. But later, it’s said that Dragonstone hasn’t fallen at all. I’m wondering if Loras isn’t injured, and rather is doing something sneaky instead. But this could be less of a mystery and more of me just misreading things instead.

I understand why people were so let down by the this book. You don’t have a winning formula for three straight books and then change it drastically because you don’t want to edit yourself properly. Splitting the books between characters was a bad idea, but it’s the central story that’s worse. We’re introduced to too many characters we simply don’t care about, and the ones we do really don’t have anything interesting to do. I’m worried that the show is going to suffer as well starting in season five when these two books will start to be adapted. Viewers used to an exciting, gripping program likely won’t take kindly to a downshift into a lower, slower gear like we see here. The Song of Ice and Fire series has been full of some of the most memorableliterary moments I’ve ever read, but none of them were in A Feast of Crows. George RR Martin writes an awful lot, but often he doesn’t say very much at all. 

All this said, even a bad book in this series is still a worthwhile read, and it’s always astonishing just how enormous and well thought out this universe is. It makes Lord of the Rings look like well, my book maybe, starring a grand total of three characters.

I’m worried about A Dance with Dragons, as the reviews are even lower than this book and it’s the longest in the series so far. Storm of Swords was lengthy, but you didn’t want it to end. I’m not so sure that’s going to be the case with Dragons.

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  1. Its strange to hear that Dance was less well received than AFFC, I liked it quite a bit better. I think it does a good job of bringing these “minor” characters from AFFC into the main storyline, and by the end you see how a lot of these story strands will start to come together in the final books.

  2. It was after this book that I started the think that in the end when all the smoke and ash has cleared that Petyr Balish will have won the day. He is too sneaky and too smart.

  3. I much preferred Dance with Dragons strictly because it featured almost all of my favorite POV characters. I couldn’t stand all the Cersei chapters in AFFC, one chapter is almost 60 pages of Cersei doing boring/stupid stuff. About halfway through that chapter I just gave up and read all the AWOIAF chapter summaries so I could get to DwD.

  4. I really enjoyed A Dance with Dragons, it had a lot more interesting things in it than Feast for Crows. I don’t understand how it could possibly rate lower than Feast for Crows, that book bored the hell out of me.

  5. I have recently been re-reading DWD after reading it on release a while ago.

    I’m actually finding it a better book than I thought. I think the problem is that (sans spoilers here, just generalities) the sheer length of the story and the amount of new locations and characters combined with the lack of clear resolutions to many plotlines leads itself to a frustrating experience that feels like it won’t end.

    I assume that’s why the book was eventually reprinted as two books instead of the absurd tome I bought.

    Many of the characters in DWD are the “interesting” ones, Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon and while the focus is initially off King’s Landing the last third of the book links up all the characters and feels more like a proper narrative again. I have been enjoying them more on a second read.

  6. Reviewing FFCs before reading A Dance with Dragons is a little problematic, as you will see later.

    Without giving any spoilers, I just want to say that ADWD is going further ahead in the timeline as FFCs, and brings the endings (that are big and cliffhangingly as always) for both books together.

    Thats the reason for FFC for feeling a little dull, it simply lacks the ending.

  7. I found I looked back on AFFC much more favorably after I read dance. You are right though some editing would fix the issues with both books. I think the transition to the TV series will be very smooth. In Dance everything with Ser Barisstan rocked!

  8. I can see how Martin would want to split up the books and how the two books form some sort of symbiosis with each others, but there’s is an ENORMOUS problem with that. Namely, the books were released 6 whole years apart. It’s awesome that he tied everything up in a nice, neat bow after the 5th book, but what are people supposed to do in the six years in between reading the 4th and 5th books?

  9. I agree with everybody else here. A Dance with Dragons is a better book than A Feast for Crows. And I must say that some of your questions will be answer shortly.

    Everybody agrees that Martin has kind of over stretched this world (in many ways we thank him for that) so when you read the fifth book you will constantly questioning how the hell he will close all these stories!
    I light a candle every night in order to keep his cholesterol low….

    Btw, he has also published 2 chapters of the sixth book.

    Bye, Diego

  10. I never heard Dance with Dragons had lower reviews than Feast. I’m trying to remember if I enjoyed Feast before I read DWD or after. It definitely is a step down from the previous books, but in conjunction with DWD I think it’s a good read still. My point is that once you read DWD, I think you’ll enjoy Feast better.

  11. I also found AFFC a bit of a slog, but the story’s told make a lot more sense in context with ADWD.
    I actually found Brienne to be the least interesting part of the book, her wild goose chase just annoyed me. It only really became intriguing in her last chapter.
    I enjoyed getting to see the world from Cersei’s perspective. Watching her inadvertently bring about her own downfall.
    It was also nice to see Jaimie’s journey. I’m not sure if it’s me or does he seem to be following the reverse of the Tully Words “Family, Duty, Honour” whilst in the riverlands?
    There is something you may have missed regarding the Hound in AFFC.
    Lastly ADWD is a much better read, the Dorne/Pyke stuff will make more sense soon.

  12. “You learn that when a chapter is not titled by a character you know, and instead something like “The Reaver,” or “The Priest” or “The Princess,” that you’re about to be in for a boring, often pointless section.”

    Those names are only used to introduced the perspective characters, their normal names are used after that, personally I find the introduction of the characters from dorne and the like to be quite interesting. — The exception of course being prologue characters, which are always one off.

    As I understand it, the fourth and fifth books will be mixed together for the coming seasons. That makes sense for a TV show of course, just like they did with Theon on the events involving with him.

  13. Bummer. Reading this makes me remember just how dissapointed I was back when I read this. *sigh*

    As for Dondarrion he dies giving the last of his coming-back-to-life-awesomness to Caetlyn, unfortunately. Or that’s how I remember it.

  14. I find amusing that for a book where nothing happens you write like a lot.
    Just one thing: Thoros did not resurrect Catelyn, it was Beric Dondarrion who gave his life to bring her back.

  15. Whether you like ADWD over AFFC is really just preference. I don’t like Dany -why won’t they let me rule!!!-, I *hate* Tyrion’s new plot development, I’m only ever been mildy interested in Jon’s story line but at least it’s at it’s most interesting in ADWD…I can’t remember whole lot about the minor characters.

    I much prefer what’s going on in Westoros or Ayra’s story.

    GRRM has said that Song of Ice and Fire was going to be 3 books, then 5, now who knows. Dany’s suppose to go to Asshai (the prophecy from the Warlocks), now she mights not.

    It’s why I’m happy for the TV series, since, at least we should know in a few years how it ends.

  16. My little theory about the prologue and Pate. I think the prologue happened after the book (an epilogue than?). The mysterious alchemist feels like Euron Crows Eye, or one of his servants. And now, in the end of AFFC, he got the key to the city and can take Oldtown and all its secrets from inside. Martin put a lot of enphasis on the Maesters knowing way more than it appeared. Wanting to abolish magic from the world, and surely if there is someplace where they would keep all their information safe and hidden, is in Oldtown. Now, from all characters from the books that know magic, are in south westeros and have a motive to want Oldtown, Euron seems the most likely.

    So, Pate is dead, Euron got the key to the city, Sam is there learning and something big will happen there in book 6.

  17. the problem with this book is that its too slow, but that also one of its charms. GRRM builds the road brick by brick, and only when its ready he pushes you in a cart on it for a thrill of a ride.

    In the end, I liked the subplots. The Dorne one can be changed to perfection in the show. They almost started another war there with the plan to crown Myrcella, only to be stoped at the last minute and then learning that vengence was indeed coming. And im dying to know how.

    While on Pyke we see the rise of the first (apparently) truly evil villain in the show. We didnt see his POV yet, but with the right army, he can take Lannisters, Baratheons, Starks, Slaves and all with his pure badassery.

    One thing I dont like is all this talk about prophecies. I hate this plot device. People end up doing stuff only because a prophecy said something they should or shouldnt do, which than fullfills it. If they didnt heard about it, it would not happen. Its weird and cheap imo.

    But even though I was really bored in some parts, when I finished I was satisfied. Epic stuff is inbound

  18. The Hound may not be dead. Brienne encounters a gravedigger who matches Sandor’s appearance, and the line about “Sandor Clegane is at peace, and the Hound is dead” could refer to the violent persona being gone.

  19. Haha I agree with A.G., was this a review or the Cliff’s Notes of the novel!? With that said, I agree with the general sentiment. I had to use the AWOIAF site quite a bit for the last two books to keep track of who was who and what was what.

  20. Oh, # IngridToday. You’re so right. Sometimes I wish GGM had left Tyrion out of ADWD.
    Paul: Congratulations even a lesser book doesn’t diminish the speed of your reading. It di but in the d it with me. I was reading very fast the first three, but AFFC and the first half of ADWD are so boring that even the need to review it couldn’t keep me motivated. The efford pays itself at the second half of ADWD, thou (except the Pike storyline; it is so bad, it still hurts me).

  21. #IngridToday is right on “GRRM has said that Song of Ice and Fire was going to be 3 books, then 5, now who knows”. I once read an explanation about it: GRRM does not like to plot the books in advance, he just writes. He had an idea for the first book (when he thought there would be three), he started writing, and the book ended up becoming the first three books. Total awesomesauce.

    The problem started with the “second” (now fourth book). The original plan was to do a four-year or five-year timeskip. That would allow some of the characters like Arya and Bran to get older and more badass, other characters to either gain power or lose power, Dany to gain any experience and knowledge missing, and to get big dragons at full power. The book would start with Dany’s invasion of Westeros, and any important events that happened during the timeskip would be told in a series of flashbacks spread throughout the book.

    After several hundred pages were written, GRRM decided that he didn’t like this book, so he scratched the idea, started over the whole book, and we ended up with books four and five. Gods know how it will turn out at the end.

    If anybody else knows anything about this, I’d certainly welcome any facts/corrections about the things I read.

  22. While AFFC doesn’t have the excitement of the previous books and was disappointing when I read it upon release, I enjoyed it much more after a reread years later. Brienne’s wanderings can be frustrating in that we know she won’t find Arya or Sansa, but I appreciate how her journey shows how the War of the Five Kings has affected the commonfolk. The scenes with the Elder Brother at the Quiet Isle and with Septon Meribald are great; Meribald’s monologue about how men break contains some of Martin’s best writing.

  23. Greg, regarding your Euron/Citadel theory, you might want to compare the description of Jaqen H’ghar after he changes faces in front of Arya in ACOK with the description of the Alchemist who kills Pate in the AFFC prologue. We don’t know that individual’s intentions yet, however, so it’s plausible he has some affiliation with Euron.

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