Friday, May 07, 2010
It wasn't as though the 250 pages or so that I had managed to read by the time I gave up meant the book was mediocre or worse. Rather, 2005 was the worst reading year for me in nearly twenty years. For nine months that year, I worked a full-time job and attended classes as a full-time student (even briefly taking the maximum 18 semester hours). Just so little energy after the 4AM-11PM grind to do much of anything else. I think I barely read 50 books that year outside of classroom reads.
So it was with some interest that I picked up this book. Since I am an active member on the largest SOIAF fansite, Westeros, I am quite aware of the mixed reactions this book has received in comparison to the three previous volumes. And despite those mixed reactions, I have been curious to see what I'd make of this book once I did finally get around to re-reading the three prior volumes first. For the most part, this is a well-written novel, with interesting new characters and some intriguing plot/political developments. But on a structural level, this novel underscores, I suspect, several of the problems that Martin has had with developing a good narrative structure.
I commented in my last commentary that Martin's decision to have several (I believe it's around a dozen or so repeating PoVs) character chapters meant that the narrative would have to be longer to accommodate what each PoV character experienced or witnessed. If A Storm of Swords lacked a single defining climactic scene in its last fifty pages (the well-discussed Red Wedding occurring much earlier in the narrative than what some might have expected, considering its narrative importance), then a chief problem with A Feast for Crows is not the lack of interesting PoVs (those were fine, including the much-maligned Brienne chapters) or the lack of other PoVs (virtually all of the PoVs are set in either King's Landing or Riverrun regions), but instead a structural problem that I suspect is connected with Martin's original plans.
From what I recall, Martin originally intended for the first three volumes to be a sort of self-contained trilogy, with a second trilogy set five years later that would follow the consequences of those actions. However, there were some problems with the way the story expanded and where certain PoVs were situated at the end of the third volume. There were too many problems involved in trying to have flashbacks cover that five-year span, so Martin scrapped the plan and wrote A Feast for Crows to be the "bridge" of sorts, although it certainly would not cover the entire five year span. Then the sheer volume of PoVs necessitated more and more span to be devoted to covering what has transpired with these characters, to the point where the book had to be divided and the series expanded to a now-planned seven volumes.
These narrative decisions are somewhat evident in the text. Besides the "missing PoVs," A Feast for Crows is by necessity a sort of post-coital novel. The mayhem that exploded in the first three volumes has shot its wad. There is a pause between the storms, a reordering of alliances and the beginning of new plots. While intriguing in terms of future events, there is little to be excited about here. A few stages have been set and some of the actors are being primed for their upcoming performances, but not much really happens. The director is busy trying to get everything aligned and it seems new problems crop up with how to place PoV X just so, especially after the script had to be overhauled.
This is what I noticed while reading this book. The writing is fine; there are few clunky sentences and the plot progressions seem logical. New aspects are revealed about certain characters and several of the new PoVs are intriguing due to how well the characters are presented and how they change over the course of the novel. But the pall that lies over this book seems to be mostly that sense that it is a purposeful lull, one that was originally intended to be short but ended up being longer due to previous authorial decisions regarding how to tell the larger stories from multiple perspectives. A Feast for Crows was an enjoyable book for what it was, but until more of the story is revealed, it will feel more languid and less full of sturm und drang compared to the previous preceding novels.