Title: A Feast for Crows
Author: George R. R. Martin
Publication Date: 2005
Call Number: PS3563 A7239 F39
WARNING: This one is both full of spoilery spoilery spoilers and also kind of ranty.
Well, I don’t have as much to say about this one. If you’d asked me at the end of A Storm of Swords what I expected to read more about in the next book, I’d have predicted a focus on Beric Dondarrion, since there was so much setup for him to be important. I thought that Sansa vs. Littlefinger would be important, and kind of hoped she would find some clever way to show him up and end up calling the shots on her own life a little. And of course, there was the plot with Brienne, which I hoped would find her doing something important and possibly counter some of the biased views of her we were getting from other sources. This didn’t quite seem like enough material for a book, but since I knew ahead of time that Jon and Daenerys and Tyrion weren’t in the book, I didn’t see what else there was for it to cover.
Well, a lot of pages were devoted to Brienne, but I was wrong about the rest. Instead, the book is about Jaime Lannister. From his point of view, we learn about how he is dealing with the loss of his hand, about his internal conflict over the evils committed by his family, his pragmatic philosophy and what he thinks about all the other characters. Cersei and Brienne are narrators now; there’s a lot from Cersei’s point of view about how she feels about him and how she’s angry with him and misses him and how in general a great deal of her life is based around him. Brienne, at least, doesn’t spend too much time thinking about Jaime, but has somehow acquired an irritating habit of bringing him up at completely irrelevant times (and really, it’s his fault she gets into trouble at the end). I suspect we’re supposed to somehow construct a love triangle out of this. There are so many problems with that—I think it’s supposed to be redemptive for Jaime because we are supposed to like Brienne so much better than Cersei* but there’s a failure to account for why we would think that the idealistic, determined and capable Brienne would have any interest in Jaime, king of cynicism and skilled evader of kingship (or heck, vice versa), aside from the fact that they had some (platonic) adventures together in the woods and he helped her out. Due to many lazy writers out there who assume that male and female characters who spend time together are then obligated to fall in love, I think we’re supposed to draw these inferences. Maybe this is a red herring which Martin will turn on its head, as he sometimes does, or maybe he’s one of those writers. Who knows. The larger problem is that Jaime is incredibly boring. Will he redeem himself? How will he cope with the loss of his hand? Whose side is he really on? I know these are questions, but they’re not very interesting ones to me. In an earlier post on Game of Thrones, I wrote about my initial fears that the series would be about a bunch of badass warlords beating each other up. Jaime is the kind of character that a series like that would focus on, and he’d be doing things like the things he does here. I don’t know. Jaime fans, tell me why I should care about him.
(And I am supposed to be a little disturbed by his abandonment of Cersei at the end of the book, right? I mean, sure, she’s been behaving pretty reprehensibly, what with the torture and all, but Jaime doesn’t know that.)
There’s some other stuff in the book about Sam, who sails around on the ocean a lot, the Iron Islands, which are irrelevant (apparently they want to go attack Daenerys, so, uh, have fun with that, guys), and a plot in Dorne, which may eventually be interesting but was really just set up in this book (and is there some reason Martin couldn’t just make Arianne the narrator for those chapters?). There were a couple of Arya chapters, which were fun, but sadly, there weren’t very many of them. And there was a little bit of Sansa, but not nearly as much as I expected, and by the end she’s still being used as a pawn, now by Littlefinger. I hope she runs off with Mya Stone and shows up again in a book and a half to cause Littlefinger’s clever and unexpected downfall, because I’m actually coming to like her more and more as her intelligence and resilience become evident, and she definitely deserves better than to be shuttled around the world as the perpetual damsel in distress.
Also. I’ve written about it before, but I’ll note that all the women in this book still hate each other. Even the problematic-but-at-least-somewhat-positive relationship between Catelyn and Brienne doesn’t seem to carry over to Zombie Catelyn, who now wants Brienne killed. Arya, while not hanging out with any actual women, engages in some casual misogyny by throwing around the word “cunt.” Lollys (remember her? The woman who is notable only for having a cognitive disability and surviving a gang rape?) is still an object of scorn. And then there’s Cersei. Sigh.
Okay, so here is what is interesting about Cersei: it is made clear that sexism is a major factor in preventing her from being a good ruler. Because of her gender, she cannot get good advisors and she has to spend a lot of her energy just trying to establish her legitimacy. She realizes that she is operating in a system that gives men more power and she works hard to try to be recognized in such a milieu. But, she is not feminist. She is not feminist because she hates women. She hates the old woman who told her fortune. She hates her teenage daughter in law. She hates the aforementioned Lollys. She hates Olenna. She has a little affair with Taena Merryweather, one member of Margaery’s entourage, but of course it’s purely an opportunity to manipulate her and get information on Margaery. Secretly, of course, she hates her. Somewhere in her scheming incompetent self-centeredness there is an antifeminist stereotype to which I am somewhat more sensitive because I am reading Feminism is for Everybody (post forthcoming!), which criticizes exactly the sorts of behavior in which Cersei engages, specifically, egotistical social climbing while oppressing everyone else around her without regard for their struggles. I don’t know what effect she has on other readers. For me, I wince a little, and my view of her as a psychologically realistic character (which I think was the intention) is obstructed.
And about that affair with Lady Merryweather—okay, look. Readers of this blog are probably familiar with the Bechdel test. These books haven’t passed it very often, largely because, as I pointed about above, all the women hate each other. But this book takes it to a new level by not passing it in a sex scene between women! Their pillow talk is all about Tommen, Cersei’s ten year old son, and occasionally about Lady Merryweather’s son too. Now, I’m straight and don’t have children, so I could be way off here, but when two women get together sexually, I doubt they spend all their time talking about their children from other relationships. I mean, it just isn’t very sexy.
Anyway, I’m not saying I hated the book. I really liked Rodrik the Reader, for instance. Also, the plot started up again near the end, so I’ll certainly be looking forward to reading the next one (this will happen in June). But this one really felt like scraps and leftovers, and I think a lot of it could have been thrown out without causing too much trouble.
*Which I actually do, although, really, it seems a bit heavy-handed of Martin to drive that home with Cersei’s graphic and disturbing torture scene involving the Blue Bard.