As mentioned in my Asterix post, Book Club is on hiatus at the moment until things begin to look brighter here in the UK and it’s safer to meet as a group and socialise again. That being said, I’m still actually playing catch up from February when things were tough for me personally (I still have Akira vol 2 to go, not that there’s pressure to read everything, it’s my choice to do so), but I began A Feast For Crows shortly before the last time we actually met up, sat and listened to everyone discuss a book I’d only read about 200 odd pages of and then continued to grind my way through it.
And what a grind it’s been. If this book was a game, it’d be the tedious bit in a JRPG where you’re just doing random battle after random battle for what feels like forever as you try and get strong enough to actually finish the damned thing.
To say I struggled through it would be an understatement, but I’m here now, it’s done and it can be checked off. Now, I know this book divides fans, some think its the best, others think its the worst. I think I fall on the side of the latter, and if it’s not the worst, then it’s definitely my least favourite, and there are a few problems I have with it.
It’s biggest issue is the pacing, at over 700 pages long the reader knows they’re going to be spending a long time with these characters, and that’s not an issue. I wasn’t expecting things to zip about and lots to happen, this is A Song of Ice and Fire, after all, it’s famed for a lot of not a lot happening, but here, it feels like literally, nothing happens until the final few chapters of the book. That’s not to say that everything beforehand is pointless, but it feels like padding and like it belongs as part of something bigger. Of course, Martin admits this at the very end of the book, he wrote too much and rather than split the story in half (which I think kind of worked in the paperback publication of A Storm of Swords’ favour), he decided to pick a few characters and tell their stories with the following book telling the other characters stories. Why he chose this particular chain of events I’m not sure, there’s probably an interview out there somewhere, and this isn’t a case of me preferring other characters (I love Sam, Brienne and here Cersei is at her venomous best) but their arcs here mostly feel drawn out.
Whilst we’re on the subject of characters. I know most people regard this as Martin’s feminist book, maybe that’s the wrong term, but I’m putting all this down after only having about five hours sleep on the third Sunday of the British Governments so-called “Lockdown”. But the core of the cast here are his key female characters (aside from Danaerys), which when I heard that before starting, I was genuinely excited by. What I didn’t expect though was just how much oppression they’re all put through and that they all are imprisoned in some way or another.
Brienne, we all know how devoted she is to being honourable and servitude, but here she’s held captive by her own moral compass, spending far, far too long searching for Sansa Stark and doing so in a naive manner. It’s only when she has to begin to use her training as a knight that we begin to see her break free of these trappings and begin to see her question other peoples motives. Through Sam, we also get to learn more of Gilly, who herself is imprisoned by the orders placed upon her by Jon Snow as she travels with the Slayer to the Citadel.
Both Arya and Sansa are imprisoned by their identity, Sansa is in hiding, pretending to be someone totally different and has to be cautious all the time, her new persona is for her own protection, and whilst Arya shares some of these issues, her challenges with her identity are for a totally different reason, she’s trying to break free of her family name. Sansa actually surprises me here, I’ve complained about her before, but of all the characters she’s been subjected to the most horrific of things throughout all the books so far and if anything this book gives her a little respite, even if it’s not the world she dreamed of for so long, and despite Creepy Petyr being Creepy Petyr, she’s possibly in the best place she’s been in since she left Winterfell.
However, as I alluded to earlier, out of the female cast it’s Cersei that gets the vast majority of the good stuff, though its not good stuff that happens to her. We begin to see how her mind really works here, but we also see her dive headfirst into madness and paranoia, the more she tries to control everything around her the more things fall apart and slip through her fingers and this is best shown in her relationship with Jaime (who’s chapters are also brilliant I might add). Both constantly think of the bond between them, but whereas Jaime seemed to genuinely love his sister, Cersei’s thoughts on their relationship appear to be purely about having him under her control and being of use to her, with his sword hand now gone and her brother going through a lot of personal change (overall for the better I might add) he no longer provides the same uses as he once did.
I think, also, that the tone of the book is the series at its worst and that’s possibly situational, Westeros is in a bad place, its people have suffered due to the war, winter is definitely on its way and we get to see first hand that nobody is prepared for it, crops are burned, corpses hang from trees and nearly everyone (maybe aside from those at Highgarden?) are suffering, and in these troubled times we are all currently living through, its a tough pill to swallow. Still, its read and done now and there’s going to be a bit of a break where I can maybe read something a little more positive over the coming weeks.