A Feast for Crows
Book Four of
A Song of Ice and Fire
Those early episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones…they seem so long ago, don’t they? Why, back then Ned Stark’s head was still firmly attached to his shoulders and Daenerys’s dragons were cute and playful little tykes. Now, with the penultimate series well under way, Ned’s head is but a distant memory and the dragons are all grown up and ready to burn…
So I thought it might be a good time to revisit the original novels. Now, I didn’t come to these until after the TV show began, but for those reading them as they appeared it must have been a frustrating experience. OK, the first three weren’t too bad, one hitting the stands roughly every two years; but then there was a five-year hiatus until A Feast for Crows. That had to hurt.
This is probably the one that fans like the least, myself excluded. Yes, it is slow; it is…very…very…slow. Or – turn that frown upside down (fingers down throat) and look at it another way: it really gives you a chance to travel around Westeros, really get to know the place. Revisit old haunts that you never wanted to see again (hello, Harrenhal); and travel to new ones. New ones like the Water Gardens in Southern Dorne, very possibly the only place on the entire continent that I might want to live – and I’m not even too sure about that.
Apart from being very…very…you get the idea… almost anything that remotely looks like action takes place off-stage. Which, as I’ve said before, isn’t necessarily a bad thing: when it comes to fight scenes, George R. R. Martin is no Robert E. Howard, believe me. And in any case there are some things that are better off to the side, like…
Ever wonder what happened to Hoat the Goat, the guy responsible for Jaime losing his hand? Well, you have a rough idea from the previous volume, A Storm of Swords; but here it is all spelled out for you, as Jamie asks to see the Goat’s head:
“When they brought it to him, he found that the Goat’s lips had been sliced off, along with his ears and most of his nose. The crows had supped on his eyes. It was still recognizably Hoat, however. Jaime would have known his beard anywhere; an absurd rope of hair two feet long, dangling from a pointed chin. Elsewise, only a few strips of flesh clung to the Qohorik’s skull. ‘Where is the rest of him’? he asked.
“No one wanted to tell him. Finally, Shitmouth lowered his eyes, and muttered, ‘Rotted, ser. And et.’
“‘One of the captives was always begging for food,’ Rafford admitted, ‘so Ser said to give him roast goat. The Qohorik didn’t have much meat on him, though. Ser took his hands and feet first, then his arms and legs’.
“’The fat bugger got most, m’lord,’ Shitmouth offered, ‘but Ser, he said to see that all the captives had a taste. And Hoat too, his own self. That whoreson ‘ud slobber when we fed him, and the grease’d run down into that skinny beard o’ his.’
“Father, Jaime thought, your dogs have gone mad.”
That’s the inside of George R. R. Martin’s skull for you: a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Another thing that cheesed off a lot of people when Volume Four showed up in 2005 was that some of their favourite characters don’t even make an appearance – and yes, the book is 800 + pages in the paperback.
There’s about two pages of Jon Snow; none at all of Tyrion; none at all of Daenerys.
(I had completely finished it when I realised that Bran doesn’t make an appearance either. Poor old Bran: he has never done a bit of harm to anyone; yet no one gives a dragon’s ass about him.)
We do get a lot of Jaime and Cersei, though; in fact, this is very much their story. And Jaime has turned into one of my favourite characters. Far from the purely dastardly villain he was when we started this journey, he now stands revealed as a complex and – dare I say it? – quite heroic man. Some turnaround Martin pulled off there, that’s for sure.
The handling of Cersei I’m less certain about. Her descent into madness and the glimpses inside her utterly paranoid head are fascinating – Better than cutting them out of their mother with a dagger, I suppose; She looks as if she needs a good raping; My enemies are everywhere and my friends are fools; A turnip would have grasped it quicker – but towards the end she was more like a pantomime villain than the very real woman of the first three volumes.
Still, there is also a lot of story concerning Brienne, the ugly and curiously gentle warrior woman who is a walking mass of hurt. Another of my favourite characters.
And with the Stark sisters, Sansa and Arya, we get to explore changing identities a little. Arya continues to fascinate as a vicious little child survivor; but Sansa is tough too, just in a more quiet way.
There is a great deal to enjoy here, although Martin can be infuriating. Just as an example, he introduces three great new characters right at the beginning of the book – sisters called the Sand Snakes of Dorne – and then we don’t ever see them again!
I’m guessing that things really kick off with the next volume. Me, I’ll be taking a breather before I get around to that one. I don’t think there’s any rush. Martin seems to be a bit…diverted…by the TV show for the moment.
I just hope that he hasn’t forgotten those who prefer to read.