WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons from the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. If you would like to remain unspoiled, you should recuse yourself immediately. If however, you've read the series, are familiar with the endings of both AFFC & ADWD, or don't fancy reading it at some point in your life (a true mistake IMHO) you may read on.
THE SHORT VERSION
It's not too complicated: A Feast for Crows, while shorter, definitely reads slower but is not less enjoyable. You'll appreciate the storylines of Cersei, Arya, and Brienne, but get a bit angry/annoyed at Samwell, Jaime and the massive cast of Greyjoys. Not my favorite in the series, but I wouldn't call it the worst in the series (if there even is a worst) which is apparently the popular opinion.
As for A Dance with Dragons, it's by far my favorite book in the series. I couldn't put it down - it was a rollercoaster of emotions! A bit slow to start, but holy moly once it gets going it's hard to stop reading. I cheered for all of my favorite characters and changed my mind about a few others. It also provides A LOT of much needed backstory and explains/confirms more than I think all of the other books. If A Game of Thrones is your gateway drug, this confirms you're an A Song of Ice and Fire addict.
For the much lengthier, much more passionate review of the final two books in ASOIAF, I'll see you after the jump.
THE LONG VERSION
If by now you have somehow never heard of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (the basis of the award-winning epic HBO series Game of Thrones), I would first ask where you have been living and secondly: how could you resist one, the other, or both?
Having first begun to read the first novel, A Game of Thrones, shortly after the TV series' first season concluded (and shortly after A Dance with Dragons was released coincidentally), I can now proudly say I'm current with the folks who were done with reading ADWD way back when -- and it only took me three and a half years! I TOLD you I have been finishing things I start. I'm also way more into the GoT fandom than I once was, a bit obsessed with ASOIAF fandom (enough to covet A World of Ice and Fire, the fabulous coffee table book, and read it sparingly enough so that I'll be done by the time The Winds of Winter is released), and I'm an avid follower of George R.R. Martin on LiveJournal. I'm gone full nerd on this universe now and I couldn't be happier.
I didn't know what to expect when I first started the series (don't worry I won't dwell too much on this, I'll get to the actual review soon), but it was hard to read them as the show has been airing. Part of the reason it took me so long to catch up to current publication was threefold:
1) I didn't think I wanted to read so far ahead that the show might be ruined for me, at least at first.
2) The books are long (or maybe 'long for me' is a better description) and there is possibly the largest cast of characters in any series I have ever read. Having audiobooks helped for long journeys and days where all I'm doing is cleaning house and doing laundry, but they still take weeks and weeks to finish because I'm a slow reader.
3) Once I was committed to finishing the books, life always found a way to get in my way. And if you know me, you know that 65% of my life is television. Yes, I know, I'm working on it.
That said, the first three books, which are NOT reviewed herein, were spectacular. I finished the third, A Storm of Swords, right as I was done recovering from a surgery, and it proved such a terrific escape that I knew I wanted to dive into the fourth book right away.
There's something friends who have read the books will tell you about A Feast for Crows before you start reading it: "It's not my favorite of the books, you know, because it's only half the characters and not the good half," or similar weird one sentence biased reviews. They're half right: AFFC does read a lot slower than ADWD and the cast of POV characters in the fourth is bested easily by those in the fifth.
However, I don't agree that it's not good BECAUSE there's only half the characters in each of them. In fact, I think it made these two books better because they're half as confusing and way easier to follow. Did I like one better than the other? Sure I did, but not because it lacked certain characters. So don't listen to the naysayers - and whatever you do: stick to the reading order in which it was published (at least on first readings). If I do a second read-through of the series before TWOW is released perhaps I'll do some "machete order" of POV storylines, but I think reading it as it was intended by the author is important. There's more surprises that way.
On to the actual reviewing - I told you this was the LONGER version, right?
AFFC made me want punch about half of the characters in the face, but I think that's one of the reasons I liked it so much. Any book that gets me enraged has to be doing something right, especially if I'm so engulfed in flames. Cersei's fall from grace, which has its falling action in the second half of ADWD, felt so righteous and so just (and yes I'll get to my feelings on her walk of shame) that you literally want to do a happy dance when things go down the way they do. You're not a beautiful princess anymore Cersei Lannister - you're just another ugly person, inside and out.
Arya and Samwell made me angry, but not physically violent like Cersei did. Arya's journey throughout the series from girlhood to boyhood to girlhood again makes me want to scream ("Run away you silly girl! RUN!"), but I was glad of her story here. She can't part with Needle, she can't truly become 'no one' because her identity is so tied to her name, and she can't let people disrespect her half-brother, though she doesn't even know how much of a diss it is. As for Sam, he's gone from whiny kid to smartypants to whiny kid again. I miss Sam The Slayer. I hope we get a whiff of him in TWOW. Don't even get me started on Gilly. Between you and me, TV Gilly is WAY BETTER than canon Gilly. Hannah Murray helps.
As for the characters that still had me utterly befuddled (I don't google or look characters up for fear of getting spoiled; it happened when I searched for Jon Snow and without even clicking a result I saw "Lord Commander of the Night's Watch" - I was only up to the second book!), I'd have to say I know GRRM makes decisions to show us inside the minds/worlds of characters for a reason, but DOES ANYONE REALLY CARE ABOUT ARIANNE MARTELL? I kept thinking to myself: why am I reading this? Why do I even care about her? What larger part does she play or is this just a 'lull in the action?' Her few chapters were boring. The same can be said for Aeron and Victarion Greyjoy - what a waste. I could already tell Asha's story was a lost cause when I first got to her back in book one, what would make you think I cared about her relatives? Too boring, too confusing. The only Greyjoy that matters is Theon, or should I say Reek? I'm still discussing AFFC so Reek it is.
Reek's story is the most compelling of his House, but I knew I'd get the gist of that in ADWD, so I wasn't too worried. Speaking of compelling narratives, may the old gods and the new bless Sansa FREAKING Stark. If you're not cheering for her, even a little, you're sort of missing the point. She's a freaking survivor and now she has creepypants Littlefinger to deal with. Bless her heart. Hoping we see more of her in TWOW as well.
As for how the ending of AFFC goes down, the only two stories I valued were Arya's and Brienne's, partly because I knew it wasn't the end of Cersei's storyline and partly because I was so happy it was the temporary stopping point for Sam and the Greyjoys (mostly). I was COMPLETELY convinced that Brienne was dead (and SO relieved to be wrong as revealed in ADWD). Did anyone else GASP at her "screaming a word" and hoping it was "Jaime" because I know I did. When my senses came back to me I was hoping it was something that would keep her alive, but I feel like Lady Stoneheart is FAR less forgiving than Catelyn Stark ever was.
As for Arya, I was literally flipping out: "She can't be BLIND! She'll never see Jon again, she'll never become a Faceless Man, she'll never fulfill her destiny!" SO you can imagine my surprise and delight when I saw there were Arya chapters in ADWD and one of them was called "The Blind Girl" meaning either they explained why she becomes blind, or describe her time as the identity 'blind girl' (meaning there were more identities to come as there had been before). Let's move on to ADWD.
Yes of course I was excited to get back to the Ice (Jon Snow) and Fire (Daenerys Targaryen) storylines of A Song of Ice and Fire (and anyone who argues that's not what it is referring to is just plain wrong, unless they argue it means The Others and The Dragons, respectfully, which I could hang with...I guess) but that's not the only reason I was psyched for this final book. Again, I was excited for three reasons:
1) To read from other characters' perspectives for the first time (Barristan Selmy, Melisandre, and Kevan Lannister) and get even MORE back story - I love back story
2) I knew the dragons were going to play a role (hello?! it's in the title for goodness sake!)
3) I'd be one step closer to The Winds of Winter and caught up with all my friends and fellow fans
So let's do POV reviews of the characters I enjoyed the most.
Obviously the story of Daenerys is very important to me, so this was vital. It started slow, but by the time she finally got to be with Daario I was SUPER happy. And truly, she made the Barristan chapters amazing too, even with her absence. Obviously I am worried for her ending here, though at least Drogon isn't too far away (I think), but I think TWOW will hold her final tests and betrayals before she can return to Westeros and at least TRY to conquer, or perhaps fall in love...with a certain black haired Lord Commander...who she is obviously destined by blood to marry...because he's secretly her nephew and the Targaryens LOVE to marry each other -- amirite?
Other POVs I loved were Arya and Bran, my Starks - though I'm secretly hoping for a Rickon POV in TWOW or A Dream of Spring (the seventh and supposedly final book) 'cause baby bro needs time to shine too! Bran's storyline just chills me to my very core: he's a super magical warg prince superhero dude but the power he can never have is to heal himself/walk again. So sad. And of course - Arya's NOT REALLY blind, thank the old gods and the new. That really would have made her story take a depressing turn, especially since she just spent the first four books becoming really good with a sword and good about getting in and out of places (blending in) and becoming quick like a cat. The scene in the "Hall of Faces" (yes, I almost typed Hall of Feces, get your giggles out now) was creepy but I'm really looking forward to seeing how they do it on the show. And now she's like a full-blown assassin-in-training...which, other than childhood dreams of being a knight, is sort of her life's goal. Go Arya!
The Reek-turned-Theon storyline - it's just so tranformative. This used-to-be-incredibly-douchey Prince has been tortured and brainwashed into servitude and PTSD-laden fear that he doubts ANYTHING is real until he reaches safehaven and sees his sister for the first ime in what? Years? Months? I'm sure it felt like years to him. We all hated Theon at first, don't deny it, but who knew he'd have SUCH a transformation, both physically and mentally. Good on him for rescuing Jeyne (aka not!Arya) and for slowly becoming himself again. Looking forward to Alfie Allen's portrayal of this journey on the show as well.
And of course, Cersei's Walk of Shame. On the one hand, she's basically been the biggest manipulative woman in the whole thing (though Melisandre does give her a run for her money), so we were all cheering a bit, if only internally. However, does ANYONE, even someone I despise and dislike for all that she represents, deserve to lose her son, her lover, her father AND THEN be paraded naked through the street while people throw human wastes, bodily fluids and rotten food at you while screaming obscenities and torments? I don't know. It's not the death penalty (in Westeros, that's beheadng or being burned alive - they haven't got an electric Iron Throne yet!) but it's not exactly fair I don't think. I'm sort of hoping she has a trial by combat, her crazy silent giant dude wins, and then she attempts to run a shadow government from Casterly Rock (I'm DYING to hear GRRM describe Casterly Rock during the winter). That government, of course, gets overthrown when Dany comes home in this scenario. Because rest assured, SHE IS COMING HOME.
And Jon! Oh my sweet Jon, you are truly the one who has overcome so much and grown the most. You went from stubborn bastard-born child to LORD-FREAKING-COMMANDER. You are going to go kick some Bolton butt (and PLEASE let Stannis really be dead cause I am SO BORED of him) and you've gone full badass. But please get rid of that annoying crow. It freaks me out.
Jaime's chapters were a tease (but yay Brienne is alive - hopefully not so she can kill him), Barristan's were good (yay! back story!) and no one likes you Victarion or Quentyn. I'm glad you're either out of the way for now or dead. You're both boring and dumb and not as important to my story. I feel for Asha (for the first time ever), I cry for the dragons (what a way to grow up - raised by the woman who basically birthed you, treated like pets, then a commodity, then children, then caged monsters and now feared...poor Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal), then I cheer for Drogon being a free flyer, and then I boo Areo Hotah. Because as cool as Dorne looks in the show, they all sort of come off as complainers. Sure, I was said about Oberyn for two seconds, but then I got over it because DRAGONS.
Which brings me to Tyrion freaking Lannister, the one we've sort of been rooting for up until someone says "here, I'm helping you escape" and his first thought is "ooh let me go kill my whore girlfriend and my dad real quick." You sort of stopped rooting for him a while after that. I like that he still cares for Tysha, I love that he cares even a bit for Penny, but his quest to reach Dany by any means necessary means she has ONE MORE OBSTACLE in her way to being with Jon Snow. I will say that the whole "Griff +Young Griff" thing COMPLETELY threw me off and I need to go back and reread chapters once I knew their POVs were over to figure out who they really were. I guess it makes sense to introduce them in the POV of Tyrion, because he always tells it like it is. I'm glad he isn't dead, but I'm not as much a fan as I once was. Again, though, ANOTHER Targaryen standing in the way of my Daenerys CONQUERING.
And this brings me to the final chapter, from the POV of Lord Regent Kevan Lannister. First of all, HALLELUJAH WINTER IS COMING (FINALLY) thanks to the White Raven from the Citadel. Super psyched to read about it whenever the next book comes out (they're saying 2016, but no one really knows until they really know, y'know). It's also nice that he still sort of has love for his family, albeit very little, nor can he trust any of them. Did I see his one-off POV and assassination coming? No way. Did I want him to die? Sure. As far as I'm concerned, you could elimnate all the Lannisters except Tyrion and Jaime for all I care. I'd rather deal with Targaryens in the way then Lannisters in the way. I will say this: by the final book I better at least get one chapter from Varys's POV. Because WHO DOES HE REALLY ANSWER TO? One of the biggest questions in the series I think. bet he knows who Jon Snow's parents really are, what Dany calls the dragons, who will betray whom, etc. Varys is like the voice of GRRM and I need to hear his inner monologue either in TWOW or ADOS please-and-thank-you.
That's all I have got for you for now. I'm also reading A World of Ice and Fire which I fully expect to review when I finish (not soon), Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore for book club, and a few other things I hope to have more reviews of in the future. I'd like to do two reviews a month. It's unlikely but I can try (even if I fail, I still tried). I know I also have to read a friend's blog-turned-screenplay and another friend's supernatural YA novel, but I obviously won't be commenting on those here pre-publication/release. Because secrets.
On some level I'm sad I've got no more ASOIAF books left to read (before the last two are released of course), but I'm also happy I can FINALLY talk to people about them. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find the contents of the five chapters of The Winds of Winter that have been read or discusssed in public on the internet. Happy reading!