Did George R.R. Martin lose a lot of readers with this volume in the series? I mean, the first three books were incredible stories with vivid characters and jaw-dropping events, and A Storm of Swords ended with not one but two cliffhanger endings that made me want to pick up the next volume immediately. I literally finished that book, set it down, and then started reading A Feast for Crows. I needed to know right then what was going to happen next. Now, 976 pages later, I feel like Jon Snow, because I know nothing!
Reading A Feast for Crows reminded me of how impenetrable A Game of Thrones was for me back when I first read it. We have a lot of new characters who I have to place amid the hundreds of other characters already in the story, and figure out how they fit in. I think many of them were mentioned in previous novels, but only in passing, so much so that I didn't give their name much importance. I've read that there are over a thousand named characters in the entire series, so I'm not going to make the effort to put all of them in context whenever I see their names. Luckily, there are several resources online to help me place these characters into the larger story.
Cersei finally gets her own point-of-view chapters, but where the other characters were more sympathetic when viewed from their own perspective, Cersei becomes even more despicable. We get to know what she's actually thinking when she gives those crooked smiles to everyone, and none of it makes her more likable. If anything, it makes us dislike her even more, as we realize that Joffrey's cruelty was only part of what made him such a hated character. Cersei may take up the mantle of feminism by taking what power she can from her position, despite being a woman in a world where "a woman’s battle is in the birthing bed," but how she uses that power clearly makes her the antagonist in this novel, and possible the entire series.
Brienne also gets her own POV chapters in this book, and I've read some articles about how the series starts to lose some steam here. It’s true that her story doesn't advance the plot that much (it seems like her parts are more there to show more examples of Medieval life and times, to set the atmosphere more than anything), but I also think that her chapters show the futility of what she's doing. She's running after ghosts, trying to live up to a promise made to Catelyn, and she's constantly going in the wrong direction, chasing the wrong leads. I appreciate the effort Martin made with her characters, but so much of it felt like it could have been summed up in a chapter or two of reflection later in the series. I also understand that this volume in the series was a bit of an afterthought to fill in the blanks of the five years that would take place between A Storm of Swords and A Dance of Dragons, but I can't honestly say that I feel like I'm better off knowing all those details.
Still, I trust Martin to take me on this journey and fulfill whatever story is left to tell. As someone else said, mediocre Martin is a lot better than the rest of what's currently selling in fiction. This is the first time in the series that I have to wait before reading the next book (don’t worry; I have a copy on its way to me as I type this), but even the week or so I'll have to wait makes me anxious.