Note: For my reviews on the preceding A Song of Ice and Fire books, click here. Warning: The following contains rampant **SPOILERS**!
Well. I read this book very quickly, even though it wasn’t nearly as fast-paced or heart-stopping as the one before it, (A Storm of Swords). The storylines in A Feast for Crows are not necessarily slow-moving individually, but there are so many of them and so many chapters between each that it seems to take forever to move forward in the story’s timeline. There aren’t as many surprise reveals or unexpected twists as the other books, and it’s very dark. Dark wings, dark words. I counted ten title references in the text, where the narration explicitly described crows feasting on dead human flesh. Eleven, if you include this line (emphasis added):
This is a time for beasts, Jamie reflected, for lions and wolves and angry dogs, for ravens and carrion crows.
There are also two references to the “Dance of Dragons” song, which alludes to the title of the next book, when half of the main cast of characters will finally be featured again since they didn’t appear in Feast, (and I’m sure there will be some more new ones as well). At first I was excited about the new points-of-view that were introduced, since they gave insight to aspects of Westeros that we hadn’t seen much of yet, like the Ironborn and Dornish cultures, but by the time I was 263 pages in and still being introduced to new character perspectives, I was leaning more towards frustration that there would now be yet another side-story to wade through before I could get back to an Arya (my favorite) or a Brienne (second-favorite, in this book) chapter.
A basic summary: there are dead bodies everywhere in Westeros, and crows are eating them. It is gross.
There were two characters in this book that provided sort of meta-quotes about reading, which described my own experience while I was devouring the thousand-plus pages in a matter of days. First, from Sam; (substitute “chapter” for “book” and it fits perfectly):
One more book, he had told himself, then I’ll stop. One more folio, just one more. One more page, then I’ll go up and rest and get a bite to eat. But there was always another page after that one, and another after that, and another book waiting underneath the pile. I’ll just take a quick peek to see what this one is about, he’d think, and before he knew he would be halfway through it.
Also, Asha’s “nuncle“, Lord Rodrik “The Reader” of the Ten Towers, sounds like a bookworm after my own heart:
Lord Rodrik was seldom seen without a book in hand, be it in the privy, on the deck of his Sea Song, or whilst holding audience. Asha had oft seen him reading on his high seat beneath the silver scythes. He would listen to each case as it was laid before him, pronounce his judgment…and read a bit whilst his captain-of-guards went to bring in the next supplicant.
I loved the prologue, which gave us a glimpse of the path to maseter-dom via the group of novices that were featured. Previous books had mentioned that maesters forged a new link in their chain whenever they mastered a new subject, but I hadn’t really thought about how the process worked or how anyone got started in that pursuit. I guess I thought that it was an inherited trade craft or aspiration similar to knighthood, but this book revealed that it’s not seen as a prestigious career by many high-born lords, (like Samwell Tarly’s father or Aemon Targaryen’s father). But it appears that you don’t have to be high-born, or really have any prestigious connections, in order to become a master–theoretically, anyone with the intelligence and aptitude to learn all the required crafts could forge a chain. Pate, the prologue’s point-of-view character, has tried and failed multiple times over several years to pass the test for his first link, though, and I’m curious how standardized those tests are, because it sounds like different archmaesters might have varying expectations or grading rubrics, and whichever one a novice chooses as a mentor will have a big impact on what knowledge the novice will need to acquire, and to what degree of mastery. So basically like a graduate advisor approving your thesis. In fact, the whole chain-forging process that maesters go through sounds like getting multiple Ph. D.s, and who has time for that? I mean what is the average length of time for novices to successfully complete their chain, and what is the average age at which newly minted maesters go and find a castle to serve in? It does sound fascinating, though. If I lived in Westeros I would totally want to try to become a maester, except I don’t think girls are allowed.
But anyway, who was the mysterious stranger (“alchemist,” supposedly) that took the master key from Pate and then erased his memory? (I thought that he killed him, but then Pate was still alive when Sam got to Oldtown in the last chapter). My first guess was Jaqen H’gar, because the physical description of his features didn’t match anyone I could think of, but we know “Jaqen” (or whatever his real name is) can alter his appearance, and he was always making a coin “walk across his knuckles” the way the stranger in the prologue does with the promised payment. Having finished the book and learned more about the practices of the House of Black and White that Jaqen hails from, I think this guess is definitely the best one, because of how he answers when Pate asks, “Who are you?”
“A stranger. No one. Truly.”
The House of Black and White serves the Many-Faced God, and the kindly man there explicitly points out to Arya that in Westeros the Many-Faced God is known as the Stranger. Furthermore, the kindly man is constantly asking Arya who she is, expecting the heartfelt response, “No one.” So really the only mystery about the stranger in the prologue is, what does he intend to do with the key? I don’t know, but since the servants of the Many-Faced God are in the business of delivering his “gift” of death, I bet it’s to gain access to some high-profile, corrupt maesters to kill them.
Cersei drove me crazy in this book. I’ve never liked her anyway, and she was one of the only characters so far for whom I still had little to no sympathy after getting to see the world from their perspective. (The other is Theon Greyjoy). Reading Cersei’s point-of-view chapters just solidified the fact that she is terrible at the game of thrones–paranoid, never seeing the big picture, letting her emotions affect her decisions, unable to cultivate allies, and not even self-aware enough to realize how much she sucks. I was nearly screaming at the book in my hands when I read the part where she agrees to let the High Septon resurrect the church’s army if he will in turn bless Tommen; what a clearly stupid move for a monarch struggling to maintain control over a kingdom! Why would you want to allow another force to be created that could oppose your own, when you’re already fighting multiple enemies, and why would you not even pause to think about what could happen if the church opposes any decision or action the crown takes? I was a bit gleeful when I was proved right and Cersei’s plans backfired on her by the end of the book, but she obviously never saw it coming. Just look at how proud she was of her stupid, stupid, un-strategic move immediately after making it:
Cersei could not help but smile. Even her lord father could have done no better. At a stroke, she had rid King’s Landing of the plague of sparrows, secured Tommen’s blessing, and lessened the crown’s debt by close to a million dragons. Her heart was soaring as she allowed the High Septon to escort her back to the Hall of Lamps.
The prophecies that haunted Cersei from her childhood were interesting, but it was annoying how they kept being alluded to yet it seemed like it took forever to finally reveal them in their entirety.
“Queen you shall be…until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.”
Obviously Cersei thinks the younger queen is Margaery, but I’m convinced it’s Dany. (Speaking of Margaery, I’m not sure what I think about her presumed guilt or innocence in her current predicament; I’m willing to believe her marriage to Renly was never consummated because I’m pretty sure Renly and Loras were lovers instead. The matter of the missing hymen is inconclusive, too, since Cersei specifically mentioned at one point that high-born ladies often lost theirs due to horse-riding rather than marriage beds. And Grand Maester Pycelle was cut off when he said that he had provided Margaery with Moon Tea, before he could elaborate on who or what she wanted it for. I would love to get an inside look at the inner schemings of House Tyrell. Not that it matters too terribly much, since regardless of who wins this temporary struggle for power in King’s Landing, I predict Dany’s going to ride in on a dragon with her bloodriders and Unsullied army and take over anyway.)
“And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”
The bit right before this prophecy said that her children will all die, (“gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds,”) and it’s later explained that valonqar is High Valyrian for “little brother.” Cersei is convinced that the “little brother” who’s going to kill her is Tyrion, but the prophecy doesn’t say it’s her little brother. I mean it could be, but what if it’s Bran Stark? He’s a little brother, and a potentially very powerful warg. Or, maybe more likey, Stannis Baratheon? He’s Robert’s little brother.
Tommen is much less offensive than Joffrey, and much more stable than little lord Robert Aryn. He would have the potential to grow up into a decent monarch, if only his mother wasn’t around, (and if there wasn’t already a prophecy that he would die.) Poor Tommen. I loved the scenes were Jamie, as a Knight of the Kingsguard, got to act fatherly towards his secret son, but I don’t think that relationship is going to ever get a chance to develop. I continued to love Jamie in this book though, with his striving to maintain his vows to a dead woman, for honor, and his determination to keep practicing swordplay with his remaining left hand even though he’s continually discouraged by his performance. I think Jamie’s character arc so far is just fantastic, and I would love it if he somehow meets up with Bran again before the end of the series so the two of them can team up together in an amazing parallel to their first interaction, when they were so black and white. Bran was a pure innocent little boy, Jamie was a sick sinister man who thought nothing of killing a child for convinience. And now Bran is a powerful warg, (at least I think so, I haven’t seen him since A Storm of Swords!) and Jamie is acting more and more like a true knight now, keeping promises and defending maidens’ honor and struggling with inner conflict and remorse and rehabilitation with a golden hand. Here’s the video I made depicting Jamie at the high table at Darry.
I like Asha and I’m glad she’s still alive, since I was afraid she might be killed at the kingsmoot. (The Reader’s warning to her spooked me.) It was enlightening to get a closer look at Aeron Damphair and the religion of the Drowned god; (that is some hardcore baptism!) In fact, we got a lot of insight into the Seven this book as well, and I’d like to post an analysis on the various religions in Westeros after I’ve caught up on the series. The annoying this about Damphair’s chapter perspectives were that they kept hinting at some traumatic memory involving iron gates and his vicious brother Euron, but we never found out what it was. Maybe it doesn’t matter; we can guess that it’s horrible considering what we learned about Euron and Vicatrion’s third wife.
I’m definitely not a fan of Euron “Crow’s Eye” Greyjoy, and when he sent Victarion on a mission to capture Dany and bring her back as Euron’s bride I laughed, since I am certain that Dany and her dragons can take these guys. But, I think the Crow’s Eye may have more powers than the ordinary man.
“When I was a boy, I dreamt that I could fly,” he announced. “When I woke, I couldn’t…or so the maester said. But what if he lied?”
I think he’s a warg, like Bran. Bran dreamed about flying when he was in the coma after his fall, and after he woke up his warg skillset was unlocked. Is his nickname referring to the three-eyed crow, like the one in Bran’s dream, the one that Jojen Meeren refers to? Has he warged into crows or seagulls or something and “seen” things across the sea that others haven’t? There’s definitely something going on with him.
The Sand Snakes sound badass! I wish we got to see more of them. Even though they’re only barely introduced, my favorite is Nymeria. First of all, she’s named after the same warrior legend that Arya named her direwolf after. Second of all, just read this description! Doesn’t she sound awesome? I won’t even try to make a picture of her, because the words do a better job of that already than I could:
She appeared suddenly upon a dune, mounted on a golden sand steed with a mane like fine white silk. Even ahorse, the Lady Nym looked graceful, dressed all in shimmering lilac robes and a great silk cape of cream and copper that lifted at every gust of wind, and made her look as if she might take flight. Nymeria San was five-and-twenty, and slender as a willow. Her straight black hair, worn in a long braid bound up with red-gold wire, made a widow’s peak above her dark eyes, just as her father’s had. With her high cheekbones, full lips, and milk-pale skin, she had all the beauty that her elder sister lacked…
By contrast, I’m very annoyed with the Sand Snake’s cousin, Princess Arianne. She’s so immature and impatient, and even though it wasn’t what she intended, she is responsible for Myrcella’s injury. And I think this is a total cop-out:
Prince Oberyn had armed each of his daughters so they need never be defenseless, but Arianne Martell had no weapon but her guile. And so she smiled and charmed, and asked nothing in return of Cedra, neither word nor nod.
Oh I’m sorry Princess, are you sad that your daddy didn’t make sure you learned how to use a deadly weapon when you were growing up, but all your cousins that were your constant companions did? Why didn’t you just practice with your cousins, then, if it was something you wanted?! You’re blaming your father and using him as an excuse for your laziness. It has been your choice to make a habit of using charm as a weapon instead of wit. And I do not admire you for it.
I love the exhange between Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly, when the new Lord Snow forbids his timid friend from referring to himself as a coward. And I’m so pleased that Sam’s going to become a maester; it suits him perfectly. I was a little disappointed that Sam didn’t figure out the baby-swap between Gilly and Dahla’s boys sooner, since I thought it was immediately obvious, but I guess his naivete is part of why he’s so lovable. I do wonder what threats Jon made to convince Gilly to go along with his plan, and it seems he surely must have told her he would kill her baby instantly if she refused. Which is so unfair, although not the first time in this series where we’ve seen high-born human life valued above low-born. There was a great quote from Septon Meribald, (the traveling minister who led Brienne to Saltpans), that relates to this:
“It is being common-born that is dangerous, when the great lords play their game of thrones.”
The baby-swap to protect the identity and life of a high-born child, arranged by none other than Jon Snow, seems like another echo of this cycle of repeating history the same way that Bran’s group hiding in the crypts of Winterfell mirrored the Bard’s tale in A Clash of Kings. If my theory about Jon’s true parentage is correct, then he is unknowingly arranging a fate for another princely baby similar to his own–to grow up thinking he’s a bastard, because the truth of his identity is too dangerous. It also faintly echoes a trope that repeated several times during A Feast For Crows, of smallfolk claiming they have a royal lineage. The undergaoler that Jamie questions in the wake of Tywin’s murder has a story about being descended from a princess. A Hedge knight is offended that Brienne has never heard of,
“Ser Clarence Crabb, I said. I got his blood in me.”
And an innkeeper that Brienne does business with in Duskendale says,
“You’d never know it t’look at me, but I got me royal blood. Can you see it?”
I guess the prevalence of low-borns claiming noble ancestry might not be related to the high-born baby swap, though–it could just be a sign of the instability in the kingdom in the wake of war, and illustrate that even the people who aren’t able to play the “game of thrones” are striving for power and prestige above their station. Of course, two of Robert Baratheon’s bastards also appear in the book, (Mya Stone and Gendry), and neither appears to know or claim their parentage.
Meanwhile, Maester Aemon keeps rambling about a prophecy that he never fully describes, but I’ve marked all those passages because he mentions bits and pieces that will require further analysis at a later date. (Something to hold me over while I wait for book six to be published). But this is a great quote from him, that could totally be used to sum up the state of Westeros in the whole series so far:
“Sam, we tremble on the cusp of half-remembered prophecies, of wonders and terrors that no man now living could hope to comprehend…”
I mean that’s the quote I would use in a voice-over if I were making a trailer for this book, and I would play it with images of a dragonglass candle burning and Euron Storm-Crow’s dragon horn for the “wonders” and zombie Catelyn for the “terrors”.
There’s definitely a lot of room for analysis though with the whole “the dragon has three heads” thing, and I’m not sure I trust the maester that met with Sam at the end and appointed himself the task of traveling to assist Dany and become one of the “three heads”. I don’t really know what I think it means or who it’s all talking about yet but these prophecies are SOMEHOW VERY IMPORTANT to the overall direction of the story, I’m sure. I’ll put more thought into it after I finish A Dance with Dragons.
Sansa is a total gamer now! I was so irritated with her gullibility in A Game of Thrones, (and it was totally her fault that Ned lost his head because we know now that dumbass Cersei would never have been able to out-mastermind him if Sansa hadn’t walked up and told her everything about his plans.) But Sansa, who now refers to herself as her undercover name “Alayne,” has definitely learned a lot, and she is smarter and more perceptive and clever in the “game” now than Cersei could ever hope to be. I have to give begrudging respect to her mentor/captor Littlefinger for being so clever, too, although that doesn’t excuse him from still being a creep and making Sansa kiss him and sit on his lap.
Here’s the video I made of an exasperated Sansa with a fitful Robert Arryn:
Arya continues to be my favorite character, (or is Jon Snow my favorite? Hard to decide! But Jon was barely in this book so I’ll say Arya), but I felt like I was being tortured via Arya-chapter-deprivation, because there were so few of her chapters and they were spread so far apart! Out of desperation I started marking all the places that mentioned the wolves terrorizing the Riverlands as “Arya” sections, since in a way they are, if we can assume that it’s her direwolf leading the pack. Below is my video of Arya entering the House of White and Black, (it’s better if you watch it with sound!). All I have to say about her waking up blind at the end of her last chapter is that it had better be a temporary affliction that marks the next phase of her initiation, or I will have to do a little aggressive, Arya-style “needlework” on some inanimate objects to vent my rage.
Just as Arya better not really be blind, Brienne better not really be dead! I’m going to hold on to the belief that she’s still alive, that whatever word she yelled at the end there as they were hanging here was enough to give them pause and save her, (but what one word could do that? “Winterfell?”) Like an idiot, I was excited when I realized Brienne was being brought to “lady Stoneheart,” because I thought it would be a happy reunion and that Catelyn would be so glad to hear that her loyal sworn sword was still out there risking everything to find her daughters, but Cat Stark is as stubborn and impulsive in “death” as she was in life. I had hoped she could be reunited with one or two of her children, or at least have the peace of learning they’re not all dead like she thought, but she’s just killing everyone, out of spite, so she needs to die, again.
I don’t remember coming across the term “Westerosi” (to describe people from Westeros) before this book. Now I just want to try to work it into conversations somehow.
This is a great quote from Asha’s uncle, Rodrik “The Reader”, for the whole “when you play the game of thrones, you lose or you die” thing. He’s talking about the Greyjoys, but it applies to everyone:
“This dream of kingship is a madness in our blood.”
It’s possible that the Hound is still alive, and a novice at the Quiet Tower. The Elder Brother claimed that the Hound died in his arms, but the Elder Brother also said that he himself “died” and was reborn at the Quiet Tower, so maybe that is just figurative language. They acknowledge that they have his horse there. Two of the three brothers that meet the travelers when they arrive are described as having their faces covered with wool so that only their eyes show; that would certainly hide a half-burned face, and if lots of brothers dress that way a covered face wouldn’t draw attention. And the novice digging out a grave when they walk by is said to be “bigger than Brienne.” I hope that’s really the Hound, because I so wanted him to have a chance at redemption, and if he’s dead then he never really got it. (If it is him, that same description says “from the way he moved, it was plain to see that he was lame,” so like Jamie he would be a once-skilled fighter forced to forge an identity through some other means.) I didn’t come up with this Hound theory on my own–I have to credit my friend EM for the idea.
I’m very eager to read the next book soon, and finally be “caught up” so I don’t have to worry about avoiding spoilers anymore and I can go browse the fan pages and wikis and see what theories other people have come up with.