As I organize my thoughts on this book, I feel that this review is more an invitation to one who has read the book and would like to have a discussion, and not so much a standalone review of a book; for, with each successive review on George R. R. Martin’s series “A Song of Ice and Fire”, I find myself only mentioning what’s new or outstanding.
This story revolves around King’s Landing, where the 8-year old Tommen Baratheon ‘rules’ under the aegis of his mother Cersei Lannister, who, more than ever, proves that no deed is too evil for her, no liaison too taboo, and no trust too sacred. A lot of the main characters are absent in this book. However, while I definitely missed the likes of Tyrion Lannister (mostly!), Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, it was interesting to know more of Brienne of Tarth, Sansa Stark a.k.a. Alayne Stone, Samwell Tarly, Asha and Victarion Greyjoy of Pyke and Aeron Damphair, the priest for the drowned god. Of the lesser characters, Septon Meribald remains memorable, especially his thoughts on religion and war: one, a tolerant view of the many forms of God, and the other, a poignant observation of “a broke man [who] lives from day to day, from meal to meal, more beast than man.”
The intense sense of drama continues in this book – but what adds excitement is the fact that we are privy to certain events that are unknown to the characters themselves! When, for example, Lady Olenna Redwyne and Cersei meet, and Cersei doesn’t know what we do, it’s very interesting to see how the conversation and events unfold!
Another favourite section of mine was the House of Black and White in Braavos, the temple of the Faceless Men, where we spend some time along with Arya Stark, or “Cat of the Canals”! The house itself is gorgeous, its people, very mysterious!
Also very interesting is the slow mirroring of Cersei Lannister in Margaery Tyrell! Not only is she the only one who can stand up to Cersei, she is also the only one who shows streaks of the older woman in all her charming ways – in all the sweet manipulations, and even to the point of a jokingly referred to relation with her brother Loras! The concluding scenes involving Margaery, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, were especially remarkable!
In my review of “A Storm of Swords”, I had said that Daenerys Targaryen seemed to be a worthy heir to the Iron Throne; in this book, Maester Aemon, with his dying breath, tells Samwell Tarly that she is the one. This and some other thoughts are left for us to mull over as we wait for the next book… how far will the predictions of Maggy the frog come true? What will happen to Arya’s affliction caused by drinking that warm milk? What did Lady Genna mean when she told Jaime, “Tyrion is Tywin’s son, not you”? Will there be a revival of Arianne Martell’s plan for Princess Myrcella Baratheon? And what provoked Petyr Baelish to say, “In the game of thrones, even the humblest pieces can have wills of their own. Sometimes they refuse to make the moves you’ve planned for them”?
There is an overriding sense of grittiness and violence – including violence of language and sexual violence – that encompasses this book. As Jaime reflects at one point, “This is a time for beasts, for lions and wolves and angry dogs, for ravens and carrion crows.”