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A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin I was prepared for a colossal let down from all the reviews about this one, especially after finishing the roller coaster ride that was A Storm of Swords, but Crows is nothing of the sort. Here's why:

1) The intrigue and lore building makes more sense now that we've seen how Martin makes it all pay off. Most people who give up on this series most likely do so in book one, or in the first half of book two, when Martin is setting up his intricate pattern of dominoes and ripening them for the stupendous show that is the finale of book two and all of book three. It can seem tedious and overly intricate with some subplots fizzling out realistically, but ultimately dissatsifyingly. BUT, now we know better! The hard work of setting up all of the intrigue, plotting and positioning is well worth the investment, and readers who've stuck through the series to this point (and enjoyed the ride) will not have any problems with Crows holding their attention. Most people bemoan the missing Tyrion and the general lack of any physical action, but there is scandal and plotting done better than most layered modern day political thrillers within these pages. We also get a few (I know, just a few) more scraps revealing more of how events snowballed into the War of Five Kings. They're small, but extremely powerful, "WTF!" moments that are worth digging for.

2) Martin builds powerful women, and I approve. Not all are shining examples of heroism and bad-assery, but that's ok, neither are the guys. In the aftermath of the monumental happenings of the previous two books, the War of Five Kings has quickly become a War of Queens, as male heirs are bumped off left and right and women, tiring of being background pieces begin to assert themselves publicly and privately - scheming and scandalizing, but also taking up the sword in their own right and becoming movers and shakers of their own. I applaud the effort, and approve of the results. Brienne of Tarth continues to be amazing, as does Arya, my favorite Stark and Martin does brilliant work with Cersei's transformation in realistic and tragic ways. I have to admit, after the death of Joffrey, I was kind of bummed because I wasn't quite sure who I was going to hate any more. He was the only one that was so thoroughly evil that you can't help but appreciate the vehemence of your hatred of him until you put it into context with other fictional antagonists and realize they were but small potatoes next to this devil child.. Gladly, Cersei begins to fill that void, becoming utterly contemptible to the point where, even though you know how terrible she is, you can't help but be shocked as she continues her downward spiral. Also, the growth in lore around Lady Stoneheart is well done and develops nicely from the epilogue of the previous book. I leave off mention of Sansa, because that's just gross. Bonus points for the Martells and the Sand Vipers. I'd have liked to see more of them.

3) Jaime Lannister. Seriously, I didn't even miss Tyrion. Jaime has become the ultimate tragic hero and a brilliantly written and layered character. Honestly, I'm hard pressed to think of any other example in all of the fiction I've read where I've seen such a stunning transformation, both on page and in the hearts of readers as what Martin manages to accomplish in books three and four of this series with Jaime. It's mind-blowing. As much at war with his image as he is with himself internally, Jaime's trials help the reader identify with him on an intimate level. More than even the tragically screwed over Stark family, you feel like you want to console this guy and encourage him. When he slips and seems on the precipice of reversion to the scumbag we thought he was, it makes for emotionally gripping and anxious page-turning reading - an inner-struggle as fraught with tension as a brilliantly choreographed duel. I have great hopes for Jaime, but Martin's world is just so bleak (and getting bleaker) that I think at some point in the future, when we come to love him too much, Martin will do something terrible to him just for giggles.

4) Layers upon layers. The imagery, metaphors and craftsmanship are top notch in this novel. More so than in any of the previous, I felt that Crows delivered in terms of quality of writing with subtleties in structure and symbolism. Some of them were clumsy and quite obvious, but others quite wonderfully done and only revealed themselves upon discussion with others or in thinking of it at night before bed. Sure, Martin's longwinded, but again, I felt like it was going somewhere - especially the carefully constructed lore. By this stage in the game, the reader is familiar with key pieces of Westrosian history and it can finally mean something that someone is named Aemon, or appreciate the duality of the Kingmaker and Kingslayer epithets embodied historically and contemporaneously in the Ice and Fire story. The details will reward scrupulous readers and make for an incredibly rich experience. I highly recommend A Wiki of Ice and Fire as a reading companion and I found this interactive map incredibly useful. You can set the chapter you're on in the right-hand column so the map will be completely spoiler-free as a reference as you try to navigate the lore and topography of Martin's world. It also links to the Wiki for more in-depth information.

All this is not to say that Crows is without weakness. AGAIN, Martin needs a better editor and, AGAIN he becomes overly fond of certain lines, which repeat incessantly throughout this novel and not in any other. Westrosian cliches that are popular for one narrative cycle only to disappear entirely (in this case, "Words are wind" - a fine sentiment and a brilliant bit of wisdom best appreciated sparingly lest your critics accuse you of not understanding the very lines you write down in your own works. Seriously that line has been used to rip this novel a new one in several reviews.) I actually enjoyed a lot of the new characters introduced, particularly the Martells, so no complaints from me about Martin disappointing by not sticking with fan favorites. Martin again shows penchant for being overly detailed about the exact meals everyone is eating, much to my annoyance, so minus one star for that crap again.

Summary: Don't believe the naysayers. If you've liked every book in the series thus far, you'll like Crows a lot. If you've been troubled by Martin's overly verbose prose, you're going to have a bad time.