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A Feast for Crows is the fourth book in George R.R Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series. The word 'epic' is too often applied to the fantasy genre as a whole yet this series has every fan of the genre screaming the word from the rooftops. This is a series that you find yourself recommending to everyone, even those who loathe the genre. Indeed, the last series I can remember all readers recommending so heartily is Lord of the Rings by the great J.R.R Tolkien which for me is the highest praise indeed.
However, do not assume that this is purely a fantasy masterwork. The Song of Fire and Ice series is all about the politics of royalty. The series as a whole is more about family relationships and the fratricide, incest and vengeance to be found within them. That is not to say that it is not all weaved around a staggeringly complex tale of swords and sorcery but for those who are not fans of the genre I would say that this series differs from the norm. This is fantasy with a depth you will rarely see elsewhere. The plot is fantastical yet due to the believable richness of the characters, entirely plausible.
Anyhow, enough rambling about the series as a whole lets get down to the nitty gritty of this particular outing. In the Seven Kingdoms The Lannisters maintain their grip on the Iron Throne thanks to the boy-King Tommen and his mother's fierce guidance. Elsewhere, the Martells of Dorne and Starks of Winterfell seek a bloody vengeance for their dead. Disgraced Knight Brienne seeks to keep her promise and protect the missing Sansa Stark, but first she has to find her. Meanwhile, a strange sailor known as Euron Crows Eye has returned to claim his rightful place as ruler of the Iron Isles, much to the irritation of his siblings who had thought to claim the throne for their own. Through all this a craven man of the Nightwatch, Samwell Tarly brings a mysterious babe across the sea towards the Citadel. Can Sam become a Maester and find out more about the rumours of Dragons in the West in the process?
Even in this short plot summary it is easy to see that the plot to A Feast for Crows is a complex one. Martin approaches this novel in the same way he has the first three by splitting the chapters into mini-stories about particular characters in the series. This allows us as readers to follow the paths and lives of several different characters and families as they face there various trials and tribulations. The sheer length of A Feast for Crows (684 pages people!), combined with the number of characters involved, means that following the lives of these people is not always an easy task as Martin jumps from life to life with little break in between. One minute you may be in the midst of battle with a Knight, the next wandering around Westeros with Samwell Tarly looking for tales of Dragons. This makes A Feast for Crows an impossible novel to read for the newcomer to the series and I would strongly recommend starting, as Julie Andrews said at the very beginning with the first novel, A Game of Thrones. Getting to grips with the intricacies and politics of the various warring families at this late stage would be close to impossible.
Reading A Feast for Crows is like reading ten short stories at once. This makes it both the most rewarding and frustrating reading experience you are ever likely to encounter. Readers with low concentration levels may find themselves constantly referring to the maps of the various isles and appendix of family histories handily located at the back. Martin intertwines lives effortlessly and as an avid reader of the series I was fascinated by the relationships and events that developed. He has an amazing knack of adding a number of unexpected twists to a story you thought you had tapped and he never ceases to amaze as he toys with the characters I have grown to love and hate in equal measure. You see the characters in Feast of Crows are such a well rounded and eclectic lot that you cannot love or hate them entirely. Martin has created a cast of characters that are fundamentally flawed. The heroes of the piece are as mortal and as likely to sin as the supposed villains and the villains capable of acts of redemption. This is the case in a A Feast for Crows more than in any of the previous novels as characters start acting in ways you would never expect.
The writing in this particular outing is as emotive and imaginative as you will ever see. Martin has created a world in The Seven Kingdoms that you can fully immerse yourself in and his descriptions of sounds, smells and places put you right into the action. Martin's medieval world is filled with a variety of different lands from vast deserts to snow filled glacial landscapes and it is a testament to George R R Martins skill's that I can fully imagine these lands and separate them from each other.
A Feast for Crows, as with all of the Song of Fire and Ice series is a gory, warts and all tale that does not skimp on bloody battles and sex scenes. The battles Martin does with considerably aplomb with the imagery ringing true of morning star on shield. Unfortunately, the sex scenes are a little clumsy and uncomfortable with lots of ripping of bodices and thrusting. However, the Lannister siblings incestuous relationship is handled with more care and the varying emotions of lust, jealousy and anger are well realised throughout.
In summary, A Feast for Crows is a vast, imaginative continuation of an epic series that belies its length with an annoying addictiveness that makes you read just one more chapter. Martin's fragmented style allows you to pick up the book at a later date although you may find yourself having to re-read chapters to keep up with the complex plot and the sheer number if characters held within. However, fans of the series will lap this up and may even be disappointed by a, next time in Song of Fire and Ice... conclusion. I have nothing but praise for A Feast for Crows. Another outstanding addition in what can only be called an epic series.
N.B First posted at www.thebookbag.co.uk