The continuation of the Song of Fire and Ice reaches a kind of close. This is the end of the first half of the story, and as such shows a lot more finality than previous parts and, in general, feels like a more typical fantasy book for this conclusiveness.
I've decided that I might do this review a little differently. I've reviewed the first two books here and here (plus an intermittent half-way in this book here) and in general I feel much the same about most of what is happening. So I thought it might be more apt and easier if I list my likes and dislikes of this series, and end with a comment on anything new in this book. It saves me trying to make the same point a third time, but trying to put a different spin on it.
- Plot- Say what you will about Martin, he weaves a fantastic story. He doesn't really have any sympathy for his characters and verges on cold about he is more than willing to put them in dire straits and make the outcome unlikely every single time. I've mentioned a few times how one does not simply 'expect' with George R. R. Martin (that's an accidental meme/LOTR reference) and it makes for much more gripping story and also a much more difficult one as a reader. You are telepathically begging him to spare your favourite characters. The nicest you can expect it some kind of hideous wound or thrown into an inescapable circumstance, and you'll take that in your despair.
- Characters- Another typical story trope, but again excellently done. He crafts really well rounded characters, though in general I feel the Starks are all a bit too heroic sometimes, and Brienne too idealistic. But people like Jaime, Tyrion and Daenerys are effectively evil- or at least associated intimately with an evil faction- yet we learn about them as individuals and grow to like them. Those three are probably some of my favourites. Take Jaime: he's an oath-breaker and unbearably arrogant and rude, but he's more loyal than most and has a powerful sense of gratitude, familial love and duty.
- Magic- His attitude to magic is refreshing in a fantasy book, and that's a lot coming from me. I usually like magic and lots of it, but here I enjoy how fleeting and mysterious it is rather than something which makes the users superior to their peers.
- Misogyny- Though I think Martin isn't a misogynist, the world he sets his books in is medieval. As such, women were expected to look pretty, get married then make babies until they died. They are completely and unrelentingly objectified by the men in the books. In general, the female POVs in the books are shown to be neither powerless nor accepting of this so it isn't all encompassing, but the nature of some of what happens is sickening.
- Cursing- I'm not the kind of person who uses profanities or approves of them if used in excess, but, for whatever reason, the characters insist on using words I refuse to utter even in my own company. As such, Martin tests my patience sometimes with the male characters in the story who use two four letter words beginning with 'C' as often as they breathe and use others with other select changes in the weather.
- Wanton Brutality- That's a phrase I used in another review which sums it up nicely. Be it violence, torture, rape or worse, GRRM does not pull punches. In fact, he packs them with iron and heats them such that they brand, even scar you. Seriously, sometimes I've felt physically sick reading some descriptions in these books.
- Death- As I mentioned above, no one escapes the bloody pen of GRRM and he will happily kill, maim or otherwise make characters lives a misery in the course of his books. This is something I also appreciate since it makes the stories gripping, and better than some other novels I've read; but at the same time I wish it was a bit less desolate and hopeless sometimes.
In this book, there are two new things: Finality and Viewpoints. We're given some new people to see through the eyes of- purely because the little conflict in book one has escalated to a national schism and there are all sorts of inner problems of each of the factions. It's like that St. Ives riddle where the numbers just keep growing as algebraic powers until the number is larger that we imagine. I digress, because it is not that bad, the point I was making is that we get a viewpoint in basically every story there is to tell.
The finality, which I mentioned at the beginning, is also bizarre. GRRM tends to leave people mid-story and move on and its disconcerting to leave these books for too long. So much is going on all the time, and keeping it straight require you to be reading the novels in succession. The ending of this book felt more conclusive, because A Feast For Crows is a catalyst novel connecting this book to A Dance With Dragons. The idea was to give characters time to grow up so that the story could move on to where he wants it to be. I'll say this though: I have no idea where that is.
The novel is the usual stock for Martin, in my opinion, so take that as you will.