We come to it at last, the fourth and final book in the Song of Ice and Fire Box Set! Wait, what? There’s a fifth book, and two more on the way? And I just bought the fifth book and promised to review it too??? Son of a bitch! Sigh… Alright, let’s get things moving and review this bastard. Lord knows George RR Martin isn’t done writing books, nor I in reading them, apparently.
Ha! I joke because it’s fun, and true. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had originally planned to quit after book four, but then decided some months back to buy the latest installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series thanks in part to the rave reviews it was getting from friends and critics. But the choice was cinched just the other night when I finally finished Crows and enjoyed how it ended.
To put it simply, A Feast For Crows felt like an afterthought to the series, a depository for the story lines that weren’t particularly important and didn’t make it into the previous volumes in the series. Hence why it took me so long to complete it – coupled with the many other books I started while in the middle of it – it really was a slow read! But upon completing it, I found that there were some rather interesting twists that made the story interesting gain, not to mention worth following!
What’s more, Martin ended the story with the misleading chapter entitled “Meanwhile, Back At the Wall”, which was really a letter to the audience stating that what they had just read was really only half of what he had planned as a fourth installment. At this point in the story, he had so much to say that he felt the only way he could say it all was to either write a massive single-volume or split it in two. And he could either write all the stories half-way, or write half the stories all the way, and leave the others for the next.
And of course, that’s what he did. Whereas the story lines of Cersei, Jaime, Samwell Tarly, Brienne, Arya, Sansa, and a host of other secondary characters get their due in this installment, the equally (if not more important) narratives of Jon Snow, Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran, and others would be reserved for book five. And like I said before, I could see the wisdom and crass commercial value in this! Damn you Martin, making me buy more of your books! Here’s what happens in this book:
The book opens with the War of Five Kings coming to an end. With most of the major player dead – Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, Renly Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy – and Stannis defeated at King’s Landing, the war has reached a lull and it seems that House Lannister seems poised to inherit the entire realm. All that remains is for them to seize the last of the Stark’s strongholds (like Riverrun, which is still holding out) and to push the Ironmen back from all the ports they’ve seized.
However, the realm is still beset by intrigue as old scores are being settled and new plots put into action. At the same time, Cersei finds that despite the removal of all her enemies, as well as the death of her eledest son and father, she is unable to wield absolute power, and gradually begins to turn inward and succumb to paranoia and self-destruction. And of course, Sansa is still hiding in the Vale, doing her best to remain hidden and attending to Lord Baelish’s ongoing schemes…
King’s Landing: As is quickly becoming apparent, Cersei is incapable of running the realm on a day to day basis, which is made worse by the fact that her Council, which is staffed by loyalists, is ineffectual. At the same time, there is her growing distrust of the Tyrells and their apparent attempts to position Margaery to inherit the throne. As such. Cersei begins scheming to bring the House down.
At the same time, she has to come to terms with the crowns creditors, which include the Iron Bank of Braavos and the Faith of the Seven. In the former case, she fails and the crowns assets are entirely frozen. In the latter, she agrees to restore the Cersei agrees to the restoration of the Faith Militant, a military order that is answerable only to the High Septon. However, in so doing, she allows for the accumulation of armed zealots in the capitol, most of whom believe her to be an adulterer. It also means the Faith now has its own army in place and is less compelled to accept her authority.
In her bid to lessen the Tyrell’s influence over the masses, the court and her son, she sends Ser Loras Tyrell to help with the siege of Storm’s End. He is mortally wounded in the assault and may not survive. Cersei then interrogates Grand Maester Pycelle and learns that he has been giving Margaery moon tea, and that she and her cousins have been having elicit sex. She turns Margaery and her maids over to the faith and has Ser Osney Kettleback, whom she has been bedding, testify to her falseness. This backfires however when Osney is interrogated by the Septon and reveals how he has been sleeping with Cersei and murdered the previous Septon on her orders. Cersei is jailed in the temple and hopes Jaime will return to fight for her…
The Riverlands: Jaime is sent north to assist in the siege of Riverrun and assist in bringing order to the war torn region. He succeeds in the former endeavor, ending the siege bloodlessly by convincing House Tully to surrender peacefully. The next step in his task is to locate the Brotherhood Without Banners, Lord Beric Dondarion, who is dead at this point, and Stoneheart (Catelyn Stark, who are still active in the Riverlands and hanging Lannisters, Freys everyone who had a hand in betraying House Stark. Afterwards, he gets word that Cersei needs his help, but tosses her letter into the fire.
Brienne is also in the Riverlands now after following the trail of Sansa Stark. Her companions include Ser Podrick Payne (former squire to Jaime) and Ser Hyle, one of Renly’s old knights. In time, they are set upon and captured by the Brotherhood and brought before Stoneheart, where she learns her true identity. Since she is carrying a Lannister sword, Catelyn believes she is in the service of the Lannister’s now, and demands she kill Jaime as a test of faith. Brienne refuses, and is sentenced to hang along with her companions.
Dorne: Picking up where A Storm of Swords left off, there is the growing plot by House Martell to avenge the death of the Elia and make Myrcella the queen of Westeros. They have not been appeased by the death of Ser Gregore Clegane, as they know it was Prince Oberyn who killed him, and that Tywin Lannisters were behind the murder. Doran Martell, the ruler of Dorne, must now deal with the plotting of his bastard nieces – known as the Sand Snakes – who want war and to avenge their fathers death. He has them all locked in the tower, but soon finds that the plot is extending to his own daughter, Arianne.
For some time, she has been bedding Ser Arys Oakheart of the Kingsgaurd, and uses him to abduct Myrcella and try and install her as queen. When this fails, she too is placed in the tower and Ser Arys is killed. But before long, her father hauls her before him and tells her of his true plans. He too wants revenge, but has more subtle plans. This involves sending her brother Quentyn to the east to bring back “Fire and Blood” – Daenerys Targaryen – who he believes was prophesied to restore Westeros to its former glory.
Iron Islands: With the death of Balon Greyjoy and the ongoing war against the other Houses of Westeros, there is a question of who will lead the Ironmen. Aeron Damphair, the high priest of the Iron Islands, calls a Kingsmoot, a gathering to determine a successor, which becomes hotly contested by Asha and Victarion, Balon’s daughter and brother. However, Euron Greyjoy – Balon’s oldest brother, known as the exiled “Crow’s Eye”- is chosen as king due to his promise that he can control dragons with a recently acquired horn. He too sends out a party to travel to the east and find Daenerys with the intent of taking her dragons and conquering all of Westeros.
The East: Arya Stark arrives in Braavos and finds her way to the House of Black and White, a temple associated with the assassins known as the Faceless Men (of whom Jaqen H’gar was a member). She begins her training as an initiate and takes on a new identity, a girl who goes by the name of “Cat of the Canals”. However, her former identity continues to assert itself in the form of wolf dreams, and also when she comes across members of the Night’s Watch who are in town. This includes Samwell Tarly, whom she meets without knowing, and then when she murders his compaions Dareon for abandoning his brothers. The morning after Dareon’s murder, she admits to the Kindly Man that it was “Arya” who committed it, and is given a glass of warm milk as punishment. After drinking, she wakes up blind the following morning.
Meanwhile, Sam, Gilly and Maester Aemon stop on the way to Oldtown, where they hope to uncover the mystery of the one who has been prophesied. Aemon now believes this to be Daenerys as well, and seeks information about the “Lady with Dragons” to the east so he can help restore his niece to the throne. Aemon dies in Braavos before they can book travel, but Sam finds a ships of Summer Islanders who claim to have seen the dragons firsthand and agree to take them to Oldtown. Aemon dies in transit, and Gilly and Sam become intimate over their shared sense of grief. When they arrive in Oldtown, Sam sends her to his family’s holdings for her own safety – as the Iron Men have been reeving in the region. He then proceeds to the Citadel, where he is told that Daenerys is the one prophesied to save the realm, and he begins training to go and find her.
As I may have said already, this book largely felt like a depository for threads that were not part of the main story. After events in the previous three novels, one would think that the fourth book would have something on the Wall and the growing threat of “The Others.” However, the ongoing story about Arya’s new life in Braavos, the conspiracy in Dorne, Cersei’s own machinations at King’s Landing, and the leadership struggle amongst the Ironmen – all these felt like diversions from the climactic storyline. And after three books, I was beginning to get quite impatient for it. It’s like, C’mon, when are The Others going to attack? When is all this prophecy going to be revealed?
However, by the end, it became abundantly clear where Martin was going with this. At last, we find out that Daenerys is not just a contender for the Iron Throne, but the subject of the very prophecy that was being foretold since the second book, when the Red Comet first appeared. What’s more, by the end, it was abundantly clear that all the threads appearing in this book were closely related. The Iron Islanders, the Nights Watch, and the people of Dorne are all seeking Daenerys, and it’s clear at this point that she will be coming back to Westeros in force, and might even be seen as a force of liberation after all the infighting.
In addition, Cersei’s fate at King’s Landing was a welcome twist. While there are those who see her as a sympathetic character who’s only doing what any man in her position would do, I see that and all the talk of double standards as crap! Crap, crap, crap! She’s a cruel, selfish, and narcissistic woman who only cares about herself and condemns anyone who doesn’t do her bidding. So to see her get hers after all this time made me quite happy. It was also fitting that Jaime, whom she shunned when it became clear he wasn’t sympathizing with her, would spurn her appeals for help.
All of this was just enough to pique my interest in the series again, which was beginning to wane after Robb Stark was killed and it became clear the war was going to drag out and end in the Lannister’s favor. Not only that, but the War in the North, the prophecy involving the coming darkness (i.e. the Others) and Daenery’s own campaign to return in force; all of these seemed to be dragging inexorably on. As I said before, it seemed like the original story, with its three dominant threads, could have been wrapped up nicely in three books. And with book four beginning with all these secondary threads that seemed unrelated to the main plot, I was really beginning to tire.
However, Martin managed to wrap things up nicely. And coupled with all the nice reviews I’ve been hearing about book five, I will continue to read and report on what comes of things. I really, really hope for the sake of the series and his readers that things proceed towards a climax now. Because of this ends up being a “Wheel of Time” scenario after all, where the story just keeps going and going, I will be sorely disappointed and forced to give up. Here I go with A Dance of Dragons, wish me luck!