A Feast For Crows (2005) by George R.R. Martin
Pbk., Spectra, 1104 pp.
This novel was the death of my 50 books for 2006. I think I started this book sometime in early November, and it took me well over a month to finish it. This is the fourth in an ongoing series of fantasy novels. Martin actually finished this book at twice the length and ended up having to split it in half with the second part being published this year. that is saying something given that this book is over a thousand pages.
It is pretty hard to describe the novel because there are 3000 pages of back story. To cheat:
A Song of Ice and Fire is set primarily in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a large, South American-sized continent with an ancient history stretching back some twelve thousand years. A detailed history reveals how seven kingdoms came to dominate this continent, and then how these seven nations were united as one by Aegon the Conqueror, of House Targaryen. Some 283 years after Aegon's conquest, the Targaryens are overthrown in a civil war and King Robert Baratheon, backed primarily by his friend Lord Eddard Stark and foster father Lord Jon Arryn, takes the Iron Throne. The novels, which begin fifteen years later, follow the fall-out from this event across three major storylines, set not only in Westeros but on the eastern continent as well.
The first storyline, set in the Seven Kingdoms themselves, chronicles a many-sided struggle for the Iron Throne that develops after King Robert's death. The throne is claimed by his son Joffrey, supported by his mother's powerful family, House Lannister, but Robert's brother Stannis claims (correctly) that Robert's children are illegitimate, and claims the throne himself, to a less-than-enthusiastic response. Robert's youngest brother, Renly, also claims the throne with the support of the extremely powerful House Tyrell. Whilst these three claimants battle for the throne itself, Robb Stark, Lord Eddard Stark's heir, is proclaimed King in the North as the northmen and their allies in the Riverlands seek to break away from the Iron Throne and rule themselves. Similarly, Balon Greyjoy also claims the throne of his own region, the Iron Islands, and likewise seeks independence. The War of the Five Kings is the principal storyline in the second and third novels, with its fall-out and repercussions affecting much of what follows.
The second storyline is set on the extreme northern border of Westeros. Here, eight thousand years ago, a huge wall of ice and gravel was constructed by spells and by hand to defend Westeros from the threat of 'The Others', a semi-mythical race of ice creatures living in the uttermost north. The 300-mile-long, 700-foot-tall Wall is defended by the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch, which by the time of the novels is badly under-strength and under threat by the human 'wildlings' or 'free folk' who live to the north. This storyline strand follows Jon Snow, bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark, as he rises through the ranks of the Watch and learns the true nature of the threat from the north. By the end of the third volume, this storyline has become more entangled with the civil war to the south as well.
The third storyline is set on the huge eastern continent and follows the adventures of Daenerys Targaryen, the last (known) scion of House Targaryen and another claimant to the Iron Throne. Daenerys's story shows her growing rise to power, from a near-penniless wanderer to a powerful and canny ruler who possesses the last living dragons. Though her story is separated from the others by many thousands of miles, her stated goal is to reclaim the Iron Throne. Although she is not known to many in Westeros, the chaos of two civil wars in rapid succession has led to much yearning among the smallfolk for the days of stability under the Targaryens. Daenerys' storyline will return her to Westeros before the end of the series.
So as you can see the storyline is pretty epic and involves dozens of characters. It literally takes hundreds of pages to even remember who half the people are and what they were up to the last time you read the previous book.
Be that as it may, Martin writes excellent fantasy and has created an amazingly well fleshed out, world that carries you away in the best tradition of the genre.