When I originally wrote this review, A Dance With Dragons, George RR Martin’s long-awaited follow-up to A Feast For Crows, was due in bookstores within a week. In deference to my friends, some of whom had only seen the first season of the television series, I attempted to write a review without any spoilers. In order to preserve the thrill of the story’s unpredictable mortality rate, this meant I couldn’t even mention which characters were still alive. I’ve made some adjustments to that approach here and pretty much rewritten the review entirely. With the exception of revealing two point-of-view characters, it remains spoiler-free.
When A Storm of Swords was published in the year 2000, George RR Martin said there would be a ten-year gap between the events depicted therein and the fourth book in the series. In the end, it took him another ten years in real time to complete another novel. In between the two, he published A Feast For Crows, a self-described “half a book”, featuring half of his main characters.
Even now, with the follow-up novel finally available, there’s no way A Feast For Crows can be considered anything but a disappointment. Focusing primarily on events in Kings Landing and the Riverlands, Martin’s most interesting point-of-view characters from the previous books are ignored almost entirely. Arya and Sansa Stark are present, though Arya’s story is cut abruptly short, and Brienne spends the majority of the book wandering from one group of interchangeable sell-swords to the next. The two new character viewpoints are fun surprises and come to satisfying conclusions, but the larger narrative is dragged down by chapters devoted solely to the politics of Dorne and the Iron Islands. In earlier installments, the latter might have been hinted at through court gossip or succinctly laid out in a prologue or epilogue. Here, Martin parses out what plot development there is through multiple unfamiliar characters with little purpose but to portend these kingdoms will be up to something important later.
Foreshadowing dramatic changes of fate at the end of every chapter has been one of the series’ hallmarks since A Game of Thrones. But 3,010* pages in, it’s a habit that’s grown tiresome. Martin’s other tropes are overindulged in as well. Many characters in A Feast For Crows do little but wait, dream, or spend their time imprisoned. Recitations of noble hierarchies are taken to new extremes, with one of the concluding chapters dedicated solely to then explanation of how a complex chain of inheritance will affect the plot. And by the end of the book at least two more characters, one a protagonist, are left for dead, though anyone who has read the series this far knows better by now.
Martin ends the book with “Meanwhile, Back On The Wall…”, a few short paragraphs promising that all our favorite characters, including Davos Seaworth, will be back in A Dance With Dragons. My reaction to that was the same as when early on in A Feast For Crows a character was told, “I’m sure you’ve heard about how the sea merchants of Myr broke their contract with Lys.” I didn’t, and I don’t know why I should care. Without the rest of the story, the side quests of characters like Davos Seaworth and the plots of the Dornish Prince to reclaim the Iron Throne mean nothing to me. A Feast For Crows is a third of a middle book at best, and without the rest, an extremely frustrating segment of an otherwise excellent series so far.
*This page count was calculated using the American hardcover editions for reference, omitting the appendices. For those keeping track, adding in A Dance With Dragons brings the total to 3,969.