A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin Behold: the Ugly Stepchild of A Song of Ice and Fire!
Behold: the Readers of A Feast for Crows: Angry, Sullen, Vengeful!

silly readers. i'm not sure i've ever read such a collection of resentful reviews for one book. one reviewer just decided to repeat the same phrase over and over and over again (sorry Joel, had to say it). another decided to note that "...kids are inherently boring. Kids aren’t clever..." er, wtf?

sigh. i suppose i can understand the backlash. Martin took a long-assed time to put this out into the world and then - WHAT THE HELL - reader favorites Tyrion & Jon Snow & Daenerys have dropped off of this book's radar. but i am also perplexed - despite the loss of these wonderful creations, this is an excellent and challenging novel. come on readers, grow a pair!

personally, i savored this book from beginning to end. the intricate plot, the propulsive narrative, the intelligent world-building, and most importantly the depth of characterization that were all hallmarks of prior volumes are still in place and undiminished in this installment. one of the things that is often overlooked about Martin is that he is a brilliant writer of quality prose. his descriptions are not just lavish, they are often quite beautiful. he has an expert grasp of language; the man knows how to create imagery that is by turns stark, subtly threatening, strangely enchanting, morbid, nostalgic, and ambiguous. the only reason the novel does not earn a top rating from me (but really, who cares anyway) is because of an unfortunately heavy reliance on repetition - mainly of key phrases and dream imagery. still, this novel should stand tall as an excellent continuation of this amazing series.

first and foremost, A Feast for Crows is A Story of the Women of Westeros. because this is set in a medieval land that has very little wish fulfillment in terms of rectifying gender imbalance, it is fated by its own nature to be an unsettling and unfufilling narrative.


The Queen Regent. Cersei Lannister is this series' chief villain and so it was with much anticipation that i approached her POV chapters. they did not disappoint. quite unlike the POV chapters from her formerly villainous twin Jaime, there is not much redemption coming Cersei's way. she's such a fuckin bitch, as the saying goes. she remains cold, grasping, machiavellian, murderous, and extremely petty. she is also incredibly entertaining: a villain in the Grand Old Style, full of swallowed rage and sweetly-uttered put-downs and viciously cruel schemes. she takes to drink and she lets a fellow viper into her bed (which also allows Martin to indulge in an enjoyably laugh out-loud lesbionic interlude). she makes a classic mistake in allowing fanatics to arm themselves. in the end, she literally outsmarts herself, and is the victim of her own foul trap. best of all, she is going crazy! her dreams haunt her, dreams of her death and the deaths of her children. much of her villainous nature is explained by these dreams...what mother wouldn't stop at anything to protect her children? and so Cersei doesn't stop at anything.

but what i mainly took away from her chapters were two important lessons that i learned, oh, years ago, probably in my various college Gender Studies classes. first: a woman in power within a patriarchal structure is a woman in constant battle with her peers. she will not receive the automatic respect granted to men; she will have to "earn it", whatever that even means. she will be constantly reminded that her job is actually to marry and to bear children, and that her position of authority is somehow unnatural, against the natural order of things. i despised Cersei, but i also despised those around her who did not give her the automatic respect a man would have in her position. i appreciate that Martin made this inequity crystal clear: he is against Cersei (of course he is - she's the villain) but he also gives the challenges she faces in her new position a rather timeless quality. gender inequity is timeless.

and the second lesson: a woman who gains power within a patriarchal system by mirroring the gender essentialism that supports that system has, sadly, sublimated that structure as natural and right - and will therefore enact that chauvinism. Women's Studies 101, folks. Cersei does not "challenge gender imbalance" - she supports it. her interior monologues are full of the same bullshit as any sexist dumbass. she despises "weakness" in men. she condemns "slutty" behavior while indulging in it herself. she uses classic chauvinistic tactics to bring down a rival and even-more-classic male brutality to destroy men and women alike. as i mentioned...she's a fuckin bitch! but her character is a fascinating one to contemplate.

The Sand Snakes and The Dorne Princess. i suppose the chapters set in Dorne could contribute to many readers' disengagement with this novel. oh, whatever. i love Dorne! Dorne is the ugly stepchild of Westeros: matrilineal and distantly threatening, with a great big chip on its shoulder. but what a place it is: aggressive and volatile, sure, but also a land where women are automatically given the same respect as men, where a princess is the natural heir to the throne, where bastards are not automatically disrespected. the brief glimpses of the Sand Snakes, despite their inability to start the war they craved, were compelling in how differentiated they were in their various proposals to begin battle. and i also appreciated how fallible Arianne Martell turned out to be: a girl unused to schemes but still scheming away, a seductress who fell in love, a woman loyal to her friends and disinterested in cruelty, an heiress and misguided leader-to-be, one whose time in the limelight approaches.

Sansa/Alayne and Arya/Cat. sometimes a girl has to literally convince herself that she is someone else, simply to survive. sometimes a girl has to forget the parts of her that make her herself, in order to achieve her goals. of course in one case, this is a girl who has lived her life as a pathos-ridden pawn. in the other case, we have a girl who is slowly losing her humanity as she becomes a kind of living weapon. eh, so what? they both have my full support. go Sansa & Arya, go! survive this series, you can do it!

Catelyn/Stoneheart. and sometimes a woman fails. to accomplish her goals, to protect her loved ones, to save her children. i imagine that some women can get past this and can go on to define themselves anew. and other women cannot, or do not. they swallow their bitterness but do not forget: it becomes their fuel, their purpose for being. it can turn a heart to stone. and, um, it probably doesn't help having your throat slashed at your brother's wedding and then being revived as a monstrous quasi-zombie. and so Catelyn becomes a dread avenger, and not a pretty one. she is a killer without regard to reason or even justice, and she turns Dondarrion's Merry Men into a grim and bloodthirsty cabal. i never thought i'd see Thoros be so sad, so lost. i never thought Lemoncloak could be such an uncaring asshole. i never thought Catelyn would hang an innocent woman or a mere lad. well, i suppose that's what can happen. so i know that Brienne survives, that's obvious. but if Podric Payne dies, i'm coming after you, George Martin!

The Maid of Tarth. i saved one of my favorite characters of the series for last. i don't think Brienne is a lot of readers' favorite; i assume they find her constant integrity and her equally constant naivete, repetitiousness, and lack of imagination to be tedious. but that's not how i feel! i loved her from beginning to (probably not her) end. there is such genuine realism to her loyal, awkward, lovelorn character. she is a warrior woman, but this means nothing in male-dominated Westeros except constant and automatic disrespect. she is, i suppose, "physically unattractive" and is constantly reminded of that by nearly every person she meets. she is always Doing The Right Thing; that integrity causes her to be disrespected even more, and it often means nothing to the people around her. well it means a lot to me! her quest may have been aimless, but it was also useful in illustrating the true and awful tragedy of war: the lives lost, the tormented survivors, the bleak landscapes, the sense of a world turned dark and bloody and soulless - a world without meaning. seeing such a brave person travel through this blighted landscape and continuously, stubbornly, mulishly trying to do good was hard to read - but it was also what i really needed in order to truly connect with this novel: a hero, tried and true. her two fight scenes, vanquishing members of the appalling Brave Companions, were awesome. what a brave lady and what a unique addition to the fantasy genre's Hero Archetype. i love her. as i loved this book.

now on to the next one!