(Warning: do not read further if you have not read the previous books in the series.)
George R.R. Martin has stated in numerous interviews, like a granddad to his children, that in writing stories he likens himself to a gardener rather than architect. The rows laid, he prefers tending the vegetables and flowers rather than planning every detail of their growth. A more dynamic process than trusting strictly to a blueprint, the first three novels of A Song if Ice and Fire bore all of the fruit of this mindset. A Feast for Crows, however, suffers for it.
A Game of Thrones set events in Westeros in motion; A Clash of Kings witnessed the aftershocks; and A Storm of Swords began to settle things into a new alignment. The latest installment, A Feast of Crows, however, sees a diaspora of characterization, setting, and plot take place, much to readers’ chagrin. The size of the behemoth unleashed in 1994 fully revealing itself, the fourth novel in the series shows every indication of Martin reacting to the weather rather than sticking to a plan.
Initially planned to be a three book series, this estimate has been steadily expanded by Martin from four to five to seven as time and the years between novels grow. And it’s easy to see why. Side characters in the first novels that would have been left behind have suddenly become interesting to Martin—weeds to be tended in his garden. Asha Greyjoy, Brianne of Tarth, Samwell Tarly and a couple other characters receive stage time that’s entertaining but plays no major role in advancing the larger narrative of Westeros toward its epic objective. Is Martin attempting to cash in on the earlier novel’s success? We don’t know. But theoretically now halfway through the series, overall tension should be building rather than fading.
Yet that is precisely what’s happening in A Feast of Crows. For the first time, sub-plot is left unresolved. The first three books in the series had independent plot points that were tied up by the major events at their close, the larger, overall plot waiting in the wings. The finale of the latest installment, however, ends with several cliffhangers. Like a television episode inviting you to tune in next week, one can only hope that the forthcoming (hopefully) sister piece, A Dance with Dragons, will tie in and wrap up the events left open by A Feast for Crows. Otherwise, if this is the beginning of a new pattern, the integrity of the series is in trouble.
In the end, George R.R. Martin serves up another full course Song of Ice and Fire meal with A Feast of Crows. Exposing hereto unexplored areas of the map, including Dorne and the Iron Islands, as well as the afore-mentioned character viewpoints, the food remains tasty. This doesn’t mean however, that one can’t question whether the cook is ill, or just having a bad day. Style and format the same, plot direction, denouement, and focus on the overall narrative have new flavors. Characterization does remain the strongpoint—as it undoubtedly will until the end of the series—and for that the book remains interesting and readable. Approached any other way, however, it’s probable that fans of the series will be disappointed by this, the fourth installment.