A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
I’ve loved the other books in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but A Feast for Crows is my favorite by far. Because of the storylines that this novel focused on, the women characters really got a chance to shine, and it was fascinating to see how the different narrative strands reflected each other and interacted. This novel puts feminist issues in the forefront, showing how inheritance laws are only the most obvious way that Westeros devalues its women. Several powerful male characters voice some horrible anti-feminist sentiments, but the purpose of including these statements is to show how misguided they are. Usually when some idiot man is saying dumb stuff about how women are meant to show their bravery in childbed, or how a good rape would show an arrogant woman her place, readers hear this garbage filtered through a female point of view, and through this sympathetic character, can feel how violent and disempowering these microaggressions are. In this way, Martin makes it clear to even the most insensitive reader why these ideas are offensive. Because there’s so much going on in the narrative, so many different threads weaving together, my response feels similarly disconnected. Here are my thoughts on a few characters and issues.
Cersei, who’s been the main villain since the Purple Wedding, has a tragedy-shaped story arc in this book. Cersei’s story reminded me of novels by Hilary Mantel and Phillipa Gregory about Henry VIII and the way he treated his wives, the slut-shaming, torture, and witch-hunt interrogations. Her hypocrisy is startling: she uses her sexuality to manipulate others into setting a honey trap for Margeary Tyrell. We learn why Cersei’s always hated Margaery: a prophecy that said a younger, more beautiful queen will be her downfall. This prophecy seems to me to communicate a truth from our own world, too, sadly. When a few token women get power, rather than helping other women, they see them as competitors. These women wisely or cynically know that the men who really run things will never let too many women have any real authority, so they feel they must consolidate their own positions and don’t have the influence to help anyone else. It’s regrettable and self-interested, but it’s a logical reaction to inequitable circumstances. If Cersei had felt more secure in her place as Queen Regent, she would not have felt it necessary to attack her daughter-in-law.
Asha Greyjoy might be my new favorite character. There was an amazing scene where she held her own among a crowd of sailors, telling bawdy jokes and making a bid for her father’s crown. I can’t wait to see the scheming she’ll do in the next book. I want her to ally with Daenerys against her uncle.
Randall Tarly is introduced in person in this novel, and he’s just as horrible as I thought he’d be. It’s clear why Sam and his father didn’t get along. Tarly is toxic masculinity personified, spouting rape myths and other misogynist vitriol.
In this book Martin shows us Dorne, and I enjoyed that learning more about the Martells and their loyalties. Dorne is unique because it’s the only one of the Seven Kingdoms where an older sister inherits instead of her younger brother.
There are three characters who have totally given up their old identities and are going by new names, even in the narration. To see these characters begin to think of themselves as a new name was somewhat disconcerting because I would like to see them eventually reclaim their roles and rights, but they are wise to stay hidden.
The religious diversity of Westeros has always amazed me. In this book we learn more about the Drowned God of Iron Islands, and the Many-Faced God of Braavos. Some believers are even presented as sincere, focused on charity, reform, and retribution for the sin of the Red Wedding.
There are several important storylines that are completely left out of this book, because they’re treated in the next book in the series instead. But there are hints in this book about how these two sets of stories will eventually be joined together, the plotlines that will crash together in a fight for control of the dragons. The moments that hint at conflicts to come are some of the most exciting ones. There’s only one more book left that’s currently available. I don’t know what I’ll do when I have to wait years for the next installment!