Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The crows come from miles around to feed on OUR corpses!

A few weeks ago I finally got round to reading George R.R. Martin's A Feast for Crows, which is Book Four in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Or should I say, Doorstop Four.

With this fourth volume, the series is really starting to take on the feel of a medieval soap opera. An extremely well-written soap opera, to be sure, but a soap opera nonetheless.

When I was a kid, I actually became for a time a huge fan of General Hospital. This was back when each summer would have a long and sometimes "action-packed" tale involving spies and espionage and intrigue of such nature, usually featuring characters like Robert Scorpio and his former wife Anna, who were both also former agents of the WSB (World Security Bureau), when they'd square off against the nefarious agents of the enemy DVX. As these storylines wended their way through the summer months, lots of other characters would see their own lives intersect with the "main summer storyline". This was all usually quite a bit of fun, but there were characters I didn't really care about, and thus their bits in the storyline tended to slide beneath my radar. And not all of the show's characters would be involved in the "main summer storyline", so once a week -- usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday -- there'd be an episode of GH that served only to catch us up on the characters who had nothing to do with the fun stuff. These episodes were largely boring as hell; I was watching the show for Robert Scorpio's heroics and whatnot, and I didn't really care one whit about Steve Hardy's son's relationship problems or the various infighting of the Quartermaine clan or the trials-and-tribulations of hooker-turned-straight Bobbi Whatshername. But that was the price to pay for the good stuff.

So GRRM's massive fantasy series is getting kind of like that. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different character, with that character being named in BIG LETTERS at the top of each chapter, so as soon as one chapter ends, you know just by looking at the next page where you're going next in the story. This is classic soap opera structure, and in the first two books it was extremely effective, but I'm finding that now as we're into our fourth book here, it's all starting to feel the same way it felt when I'd watch GH all those years ago. "Oh, cool! An Arya chapter! Her story's interesting!...Oh, bugger, another chapter about Sansa. Snore." If ASoIaF were to be filmed, I think it should be as a soap opera, titled Westeros!. And if they change actors, a voiceover guy could intone, "The part of Jaime Lannister will be played on this episode by...."

It's not that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did, mostly. But the feel of reading this series has become eerily similar in my mind to that of watching a soap opera. I'm not sure if that's what GRRM has in mind, but there it is.

As for this particular book, I found things fairly uneven. First of all, not a whole lot actually happens in the book. I suppose that's by good design, since the previous volume, A Storm of Swords, left a lot of dust in the air to settle. But still, a number of the storylines followed in this book -- Brienne's, Samwell's, and Jaime's, for example -- basically deal with following those characters from one place to another place in not-always-enthralling detail. (Readers who bounce off The Lord of the Rings because of all the walking from locale to locale will find this one maddening.) The storyline that I found the most involving, Arya's, is left hanging more than one hundred fifty pages before the book itself ends. Another storyline, involving the machinating plots of the Princess of Dorne, never much engaged my interest at all. The tale of the succession of the King of the Iron Islands is over too soon.

The former books in this series all had a quality to them of moving the overall plot forward, but this one seems mainly concerned with resetting the stage and filling in some background details. We learn things about events gone before, such as who really poisoned King Joffrey, that cast those previous events in different light; this is often fascinating -- again, in that "Oh, so that's who was behind ____" soap-opera way -- but at other points in the book, it seems as if all anyone is doing is sitting around talking about local politics and/or harboring various resentments until they are to play out at the appropriate moment. And many of the best characters don't even appear in this book, because GRRM basically took the giant book he was writing and, in order to get something out there onto the bookshelves, cut it in half and told "all of the story for half the characters". Problem is, at times it feels as though there isn't even all that much story for those characters.

I found A Feast for Crows something of a slog to get through. I have no intention of giving up on the series, but I hope that A Dance with Dragons fares better in the adrenaline department.

(And yes, there are a lot of nipples in this book.)


Anonymous said...

I'll agree that this is the least of the four; he initially wanted six books, total, with a five year gap between the two trilogies.

But then he got curious and started writing, and before he knew it, he had Feast and its coming sequel, A Dance of Dragons. He split the arcs down the middle, leaving out tons of people in each.



I maintain this will be the defining fantasy series when he wraps it all up in four books. No one is approaching his magnitude, not even that hack Jordan...

Once he gets past Dance, I suspect it'll be full tilt. Hell, Dance will have Jon again, finally.

Anonymous said...

So, the reason he wanted 5 years between the 3rd and 4th novels was that there was a lot of boring crap to skip past. Specifically, _this_ boring crap to skip past. So I suspect that the next book (which has the interesting stuff) won't be nearly as dull...

Sean Meade said...

1st of all, i must say that was also *really* into GH as a kid. ugh ;-)

2nd, i *really* didn't like these books. i forget if i read the 1st 2 or 3.

i am somewhat 'immature' in my approach to fiction. i do not like this new-fangled style of telling the story from many different Points of View. frankly, i'm mostly just not interested in all of those characters.

i also sort of like to read about a *hero*. call me old-fashioned...

if i don't care about the characters, i usually won't keep reading. Martin is a much better writer than Jordan, but i've put them both down never to pick them up again.