Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol. 1, No. 20

Martin, George R.R. A Feast for Crows. New York: Bantam Spectra, 2005. 1086 ppg.

            The fourth volume of George R.R. Martin’s saga, A Song of Fire and Ice, propels the reader down the storyline of what took place in Westeros following the events that took place in A Storm of Swords. This volume and most of the fifth volume feature the storylines running concurrently, but split into the two books. What this portends for the succeeding volumes is unknown, but the fact that Martin needed two books instead of one to advance the saga is a bit unnerving. The volumes are already stretching into the thousand page marks with years between releases. 

            A Feast for Crows does not disappoint the reader though. It is worth every penny of its purchase. The death of Tywin Lannister has thrown the Seven Kingdoms into turmoil. A boy king, his mother who demands to be the regent, the maimed commander of the Kingsguard who resents his sister (and former lover) for her betrayal, unrest among the people as winter comes to the southlands, religious fanaticism taking hold as the crown ignores the people, and the continued shifting of power and alliances fill the pages. Uncertainty abounds with every turn of the page. Are the wars of the five kings over or are they just in a lull period?

            A new king claims the Iron Islands while another claimant moves south from the Wall. While not featured in this book, it is known that one claimant to the throne still lives in Mereen and she has dragons. Meanwhile, Bran and his party move north following their vision to its conclusion. If anything, this book fills in what could have been major gaps in the plot. While peace lies uneasily in much of the lands, men still maneuver for power as no clear leader seems to be stepping forward to rule the land. 

            I found this volume to be more about character development than others had been. I was particularly impressed with the changes made in Jamie Lannister’s character. The loss of his sword hand has made him adapt and begin to use his brain to solve many of the problems he seeks to solve. His use of diplomacy in resolving sieges and ending the last vestiges of the war is particularly interesting.  The introduction of characters from Dorne was an outstanding addition to the saga. It is one of the few untouched areas of Westeros and its might could definitely change the balance of power. Many Dornish seek to use that power immediately, but its leader bides his time waiting for the right moment.

            Yes, this volume really brings forth the maneuvering in developing powerful alliances which fall apart all the time. While not nearly as deadly for characters as the previous books, the death of minor characters continues as Martin depicts the lands as deadly as ever. The style of writing had remained the same as well. Chapters are brief, and are from one character’s point of view per chapter while expanding the saga. The themes remain very adult however. This is not a book for young readers. 

            I really do not want to give any of the plot away. It is clear that Martin has some serious work ahead of him in unifying the plotlines together which will involve more death. Religion is brought to the forefront of this book for the first time in the saga. Before it had existed, but not in a form that carried any real weight. In this book, religious fanaticism rears its head. As we see by current events, this can be a very powerful force in the world. Martin shows how that works within the medieval framework. 

            All in all, this is an excellent book and one that grabs the reader’s attention. With the HBO series now filming episodes that feature events that take place after what Martin has written so far, it remains unclear how things will develop in the future. Already several story lines have been significantly altered from the books. How Martin’s chooses to advance the saga will be interesting. One thing is clear. Eventually peace will return to the Seven Kingdoms. The problem will be if no one is left alive to enjoy it. The winter is coming and so is a great evil in the North which may require the humans to band together in order to fight it. Martin seems to be showing how a lack of unity may be too much for humanity to overcome when faced with supernatural death and destruction.

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