Monday, August 15, 2011

girl power — a feast for crows

A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, is in a very different tone from the previous thrill-a-minute and bloody good (figurative and literally) A Storm of Swords. Its pace is a bit more leisurely, more in common with the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, than either Storm or A Clash of Kings (book two) — with one significant difference. A Feast of Crows focuses on the women of Westeros, and how difficult it is for them to attain or maintain power in the primarily misogynistic medieval society they live in. The book follows both male and female characters in different parts of the kingdom, but the women, both familiar and new, provide the most interest and intrigue.

Cersei Lannister  Queen Cersei has been a major character from the very beginning of the series, but this is the first book where Martin lets us in on her point of view. It knocks her down to size, showing that her evil ambitions can be traced back to childhood hurts, but also shows how easily and rapidly she lets her vulnerabilities translate into lethal edicts. She spends most of her life inside the castle in King's Landing, like the Red Queen, yelling "Off with his head!" Cersei can't stand that because she is a woman no one, especially men, will take her seriously as their ruler. Any woman can relate to her frustrations, as sexism is still prevalent in the modern workplace, but Cersei has been so warped by her upbringing and thwarted desires that everyone is right to want to send her packing. She is completely stupid about people, which is not a good trait for a queen to have. She misinterprets everything and everyone around her, including an old prophecy that haunts her. She is a terrible ruler, female or not.

Brienne of Tarth Good-natured, loyal and brave Brienne is on a quest to bring the only living Stark (she thinks) Sansa, safely to ... where, exactly? Brienne is immensely likable, but also a tragic figure. A woman on a quest but without a plan. Her large frame and un-princessy looks have kept her out of the traditional world of women of her time, while the attitudes of the men's club of knights prevent her from being taken seriously as a warrior. She still carries a torch for almost-king Renly Baratheon, who, for more reasons than her innocent nature could realize, could never have loved her. And she is slowly but surely transferring some of her feelings for Renly to Jaime Lannister (Cersei's brother) — another unsuitable choice, but for different reasons. Like Samwell Tarly, she doesn't quite fit into Westeros society.

Arianne Martell  This is the reader's first introduction to the princess in Dorne. Arianne is beautiful, but also vulnerable, as she has watched, she believes, her seemingly meek father pass her over as his successor for her younger brother. Like Cersei and many of the other characters, childhood slights inform much of her adult actions. Her solution to regain power? She intends to crown young Myrcella Baratheon, Cersei's daughter, in a woman-power bid for control of Westeros politics.

Asha Greyjoy Another daughter who aspires to a throne,  this time on the Iron Islands, Asha is a fierce warrior, and was King Balon's, her father's, favorite. But now Balon is dead and no one can seem to confirm whether her brother and Balon's rightful heir Theon Greyjoy is dead or alive. Balon's two brothers are in a battle for her father's crown and Asha is watching her status lower before her eyes.

Sansa Stark Sansa is under the "protection" of Lord Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger), who is having her pose as his daughter Alayne. Sansa is as trapped as she was previously in King's Landing. She is slowly gaining confidence, but she also still desperately wants a father figure/protector. By observing Littlefinger's politics of manipulation she will hopefully start to develop some skills to deflect Lord Baelish's "fatherly" love.

Arya Stark Arya is still a little wolf girl without a pack, scrabbling and fighting her way through the world, trying to survive. Now in Braavos, she is also looking for a safe haven, but has she chosen the right one? She might be batter off if she just accepted her true (wolf) nature.

Stoneheart In Westeros, most of the time, dead is dead, but Stoneheart, who once walked the land as Catelyn Stark is not alive or dead, but reanimated. She is leading a group of followers on a path of revenge and death. But Catelyn dead is as frustrating and boneheaded as she ever was alive. She is far more dangerous than the zombie Wights of the North beyond the Wall.

Other important female characters:

The Wildling girl who knows more of life and love than Samwell

Margaery Tyrell 
The "little queen" of Westeros, and despite what Cersei might say or think its true queen, at least for now

The Sand Snakes 
Three bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell of Dorne, who are bent on avenging their father's death, declaring war on King's Landing, and destroying the Lannisters

Taena Merryweather
Queen Cersei's friend and confidante, or is she?

Martin takes the reader on a tour through some of the lands of the Seven Kingdoms only visited briefly or hinted at previously — Braavos, Dorne, the Eyrie. As much as his characters have been far-flung since his first novel, they are starting to come together, with characters converging. With all of these strong women in A Feast for Crows, what about Daenerys Stormborn, etc., etc., Targeryen? She is a rallying cry in this novel, but is back as a main character in the fifth book, A Dance of Dragons, which has just been recently released. Martin plans two more books to come after that to finish off the series.

A Feast for Crows was a different experience from the thrill-a-minute A Storm of Swords, but just as satisfying. By keeping the focus on what people are thinking and feeling, and how the women of Westeros are warring, maybe not with swords, but just as fiercely, Martin has deepened his story and his characters. And by only referring to series favorites like Tyrion and Daenerys and Jon Snow, it makes one all that more ready to jump in to A Dance with Dragons.

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