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A Feast for Crows: Song of Ice and Fire    by George R. R. Martin order for
Feast for Crows
by George R. R. Martin
Order:  USA  Can
Spectra, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the long-awaited fourth in Martin's brilliant Song of Ice and Fire series (following Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords). This epic medieval fantasy regularly slaughters the good guys (Starks of Winterfell in particular), setting survivors adrift in a realm in which ruthless factions vie for power at the expense of the common folk. In the first book, Eddard Stark's bastard son, Jon Snow, was sent to join the Night's Watch, dedicated to holding the northern Wall against the Wildlings, the Others and their army of the dead. In the second episode, the King fell to treachery and his realm to civil war, while overseas an exiled queen, Daenerys Targaryen, used dragons to win back a crown. The third book killed off a bunch more characters I liked, rehabilitated a few bad guys, and took a macabre turn by bringing Catelyn Stark back from the dead as a horrifying vigilante.

By now, the series has a huge cast of characters, which it takes eighteen Appendices to list! A Feast for Crows ends somewhat abruptly with a 'Meanwhile, Back on the Wall ...' explanation from its author who tells us that he wrote one big book that was then split up in two volumes. The first focuses on King's Landing, while next year's A Dance With Dragons will give us events along the Wall and across the sea. As Jaime Lannister muses, evil now runs rampant and 'This is a time for beasts'. The fourth episode begins and ends with Citadel novice Pate, the pig boy. We see a great deal of lovely - but utterly selfish and ruthless - Cersei Lannister, whose eight-year-old son Tommen has inherited the Iron Throne and soon marries Margaery Tyrell. Cersei makes Lady Macbeth seem like a sweet old lady. She does a poor job as Regent, putting weak straws in positions of power and allowing the church to rebuild its army, the orders of Sword and Star.

There's a struggle for the succession amongst the seagoing ironborn who hold a Kingsmoot (King Balon's delightfully tough daughter Asha is a contender). The warrior Maid of Tarth, Brienne, undertakes a rambling, perilous quest to find Sansa Stark, to fulfill a vow Jaime Lannister made to Catelyn Stark. Princess Arianne of Dorne plots, is betrayed, and learns more of her father's long-laid plans for vengeance, 'Fire and blood.' Sansa hides in plain sight at the Eyrie, masquerading as Alayne, bastard daughter of Lord Petyr Baelish, who has his own plans for her. We learn more of what's happened to my favorite of the Winterfell folk, Arya Stark, who sails to Braavos ('city of fogs and masks and whispers'), takes refuge in a strange temple, the House of Black and White, and roams the streets as Cat. And her half-brother Jon Snow, now Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, sends the wonderfully fat and cowardly Samwell Tarly to the Citadel with the message that 'Daenerys is the only hope'.

I'll make my usual plaint - where are my favorite characters, the direwolves? There are only rumors of them running with wolf packs and through Arya's dreams in this episode. Aside from that, my sole problem with A Feast for Crows is that I have to wait till next year for the rest of it. I'm very curious about what happens to Daenerys and the surviving Starks, and look forward to more of dwarf Tyrion - the one child of Tywin Lannister's who is truly his father's son, according to his aunt. I can't wait for A Dance With Dragons.

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