Title: A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)
Author: George R. R. Martin
Rating: 4 Stars
Note: This review is spoiler-free for A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords which is why readers will notice that I am intentionally vague while mentioning certain plot points. There is a minor spoiler for A Game of Thrones where I mention an event which occurs early on in the novel (and in the first episode of the show, actually). You can read my reviews of the previous three books in this series here, here, and here respectively.
Very early in the text Martin introduces us to the perspective of Arianne Martell, princess of Dorne and niece to Oberyn. I found much to love about Arianne but, perhaps, what struck me the most is the subtle juxtaposition of her character to that of Cersei Lannister's. Not only are both Arianne and Cersei women in positions of immense power, but they both detest their fathers and simultaneously yearn to emulate and become better than them. Moreover, both women are aware of their attractiveness and use their sexuality as a weapon. Yet, somehow, Arianne comes across in a far more sympathetic light than Cersei. By using these two women as foils for one another Martin hints at the fascinating concept that the qualities Cersei prides herself in possessing uniquely--her relationship with Tywin Lannister, her incredible beauty, her power, her intellect--are not, after all, the traits that make her her. Instead, by this stage in the story line, Cersei has evolved into a woman beyond a simplistic mold and, looking upon Arianne, it is clear that Cersei's change is certainly not for the better.
Speaking of Cersei, I found myself both in awe and in fright of her throughout the course of the novel. Cersei, time and time again, throws herself into the political game in Westeros and fails. Not only does her fear propel her to put into power individuals who are of little help to the realm, but it also ensures she is the sole ruler in King's Landing. One plagued by nightmares, whose pride errs her judgement. Yet, what I find most compelling, in many ways, about Cersei is that she looks upon her failures with contempt at others. Instead of finding fault with herself, she believes that if she were a man, her decisions would reveal the outcome she hoped for. While Cersei has used her feminine wiles as a weapon, she nevertheless feels burdened by them as well. Why I find this entire concept to be achingly familiar is because, quite simply put, in a rage of feminist fury I often blame my failures on my sex as well. It is all too easy for women to claim that their gender is a hindrance to their success because, in most cases, it is. But not in Cersei's situation and this, above all, stuck with me.
Jaime, in contrast with his older sister, pulls himself away from the politics of his nation. Plagued with guilt concerning his actions towards Tyrion, mad with disbelief at the barbs Tyrion threw at him, A Feast for Crows sees Jaime and Cersei finally turn against one another. Now, perhaps more than ever, both these siblings need one another's support but it is oddly absent. Not only has Cersei changed, as hungry for power as she is fearful of her son's life, but Jaime is forced to reconcile himself to the life of a cripple. How fitting, isn't it, that Jaime who pushed Bran to his crippled state now finds himself in a similar position? Yet, I love Jaime. I love this Lannister whose past is defined by physical prowess and future will, sadly, not be determined by it. From his struggles to re-define who he is without his sword-fighting hand to his all-too-true suspicions concerning Cersei, Jaime's tale is both enlightening and heart-breaking. We know it's necessary for him to wander down this path but that doesn't make it any easier to watch--not for me, at any rate.
And Brienne. Brienne stunned me in A Feast for Crows. I loved that her arc showcased the truth of Jaime's words in A Storm of Swords--a knight is torn by his vows. More than just that, though, Brienne is, for the first time since we've met her, surrounded by men who despise her occupation and want nothing more than for her to fade into the background as just another household wife with a brood of children. While we're familiar with this mentality concerning Brienne, we are also familiar with the occasional glimpse of a respectful face whether it be Catelyn Stark or Jaime Lannister. In A Feast for Crows, however, Brienne is truly alone to face not only her fears--taking a man's life--but also the past she has escaped from. I thoroughly enjoyed learning of Brienne's childhood, her path to pursuing her dreams, and her kick-butt sword-fighting skills. It is difficult to determine, yet, just how important of a character she is to the series as a whole since she removes herself from political games but, regardless, I love her character. (And, if you can't already tell, I ship Jaime and Brienne so hard.)
A Feast for Crows is yet another masterful work of fiction from Martin. I've yet to complain about this series and, truly, if you are a fan of high fantasy or political drama, the Song of Fire and Ice Series is the finest you will find.