Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Feast For Crows, George R. R. Martin

Title: A Feast For Crows
Author: George R. R. Martin
Rating: OK

I've now digested A Feast For Crows, book four in George R. R. Martin's twelve step program to cause readers to despise fantasy literature.

Well, wait a minute. That statement may be a bit too strong. After all, there are things to like about this book. Let's see...

There are some good (as in well written) characters here. And there are some interesting plot lines as well. In fact, I think the writing here may be better than the writing in the first three books. But right about there I start to run out of complementary material.

The first problem with A Feast For Crows is Martin's desperate need for an editor, preferably a samurai with a very, very sharp sword. Martin only discusses (or even mentions) about half of the major characters from the first three books here. The rest go mute and vanish for a thousand pages. If you were interested in what happened to Tyrion, for example, you're out of luck in this volume. But that means you've got a thousand pages of what? Well, read them and find out. Don't look for spoilers here. But a strong editor that could stand up to Martin and get him to whittle things down a tad (say, 50% or more) would be welcome.

And then there is the matter of the plot. Many of the the plot lines in here - and there are a lot of them - serve no obvious purpose. I liken it to that part of a chess game where the players are positioning their pieces so they can do great things, but for some number of moves not much appears to happen from an outside perspective. Don't get me wrong, some of these plot lines might have made good stories (or even novels) on their own, but causing us all to wade through them to learn very little about the overall war and world is irritating.

And finally we hit my chief complaint: the vast number of characters. We may only be following half the main characters from the first three books, but we have a ton of new ones to full up these pages. And, of course, they all know each other. By the time Martin has finished this saga any main character he might have left alive will have to die of a brain seizure as a result of trying to remember all the names of all the knights and lords he or she has met or known during their sorry life. And that doesn't include the courtesans and bards and maesters and magi and brothers and all their various titles and relationships to him or her and each other and on and on and on. One can imagine Martin pondering on some obscure plot point as follows:

"Hmmm... Jaime needs to meet someone that he knows in this instance, and the relationship must be slightly strained. Let's see, starting from the dawn of history and tracing through two hundred and twelve generations, it can be his mother's brother's wife's sister's great-grand-mother's half-niece who married into the wrong family first and started a blood feud when she killed her first husband. He can have met her at court once, when he was three and she was nine. He will remember it because of the color of her eyes and the way she always says the words 'my lord' in a high squeaky voice. Yeah. That works."

As you can imagine, this is another place where afore mentioned samurai editor would be useful.

A vision: John Belushi in full samurai regalia, swinging his sword at a three thousand page manuscript. Pages or parts of pages fly everywhere so it looks like it is snowing, and he is screaming: "Too long! Must remove fifty main characters and twenty sub-plots by morning!"


So, in the end, what do I think?

I think these books are overrated. They aren't terrible, but they aren't on a par with the greats of fantasy literature. I'll probably muddle through the fifth volume when it appears, but I'm in no hurry, so I'll wait to get a copy from, and I'll pass it on when I am done, as I am doing now with A Feast For Crows.