The long-awaited fourth instalment of George R.R Martin’s classic A Song of Fire and Ice, continuing the most ambitious and imaginative epic fantasy since The Lord Of The Rings. Bloodthirsty, treacherous and cunning, the Lannisters are in power on the Iron Throne in the name of the boy-king Tommen. But fear and deceit are in the air: their enemies are poised to strike. The Martells of Dorne seek vengeance for their dead, and the heir of King Balon of the Iron Isles, Euron Crow’s Eye, is as black a pirate as ever raised a sail. Across the war-torn landscape of the Seven Kingdoms, Brienne the Beauty (thus named in mockery of her great size and strength) seeks for Sansa Stark, having vowed to protect Sansa from the wrath of Queen Cersei, Tommen’s power-hungry mother. Meanwhile apprentice Maester Samwell Tarly brings a mysterious babe in arms south to the Citadel from the cruel frozen north where the sinister Others threaten the Wall. A Feast For Crows brings to life dark magic, complex political intrigue and horrific bloodshed. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel – and the coldest hearts.
Oh, how to do this, when everything I write is going to sound like fanboy hyperbole of the highest order.
Right, let’s start with the negative side. This is the fourth book in a series, George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire Of Ice. You would be an idiot to read it if you have not read the others, and this book will punish you if you try. You won’t have the first idea what is happening, and rightly so.
You are also an idiot if you have not read the first three books already. Ease yourself past any prejudices you have of fantasy fiction, and pick up A Game Of Thrones tomorrow, and start your journey. It’s going to be a vivid, memorable one. When the first book was released in 1996, it flipped traditional notions of what could be achieved within the genre on their head, and remains a unique creature to this day. Broadly, the sequence follows the politics of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros from the points of view of the ruling families and those lower born. To date we have seen political assassination, incest, marriages for political gain, war, sibling rivalry, threats both political and otherwise, and much, much more. By this fourth book there is a cast of characters numbering in the hundreds, with none treated as a minor player.
Martin’s primary strength as a writer, and the thing that makes him, for me, one of the greatest writers of speculative fiction alive, is his gift for character. In this sprawling epic, he features dozens as primary players, every one of them distinct, with their own agendas, feelings, and needs. There are no villains in Martin’s world, because nobody believes themselves to be evil. Characters are painted grey, whatever their station. None of them exist to fulfil a plot function, but instead simply exist. You need to read it to get it, but when you do, you will.
And where you have a cast of characters to fill a stadium, and made them come alive for your reader in ways that may make that reader wonder if they themselves are as complex as the person they’re reading, you need a world to put them in that is just as exquisitely drawn. Again, Martin succeeds in this. You don’t read about his world, you visit it.
One thing I won’t cover here is the plot, because there isn’t one. There are dozens. I’m sure many are going in the same direction, but right now, they’re distinct creatures in themselves, some spinning off each other or running parallel, but each a beautiful thing in itself.
Oh, look, just start reading them, okay? I don’t have the right words when I’m this impressed. Reading these books is a lesson in how fiction can truly breathe, almost becoming a separate entity from its author.
You’ll thank me, later.