With only five months between my reading of A Feast for Crows
and this, I dread to imagine how confused readers would be who'd been forced to wait the full five years between publications. I was confused as hell. I can see why George R.R. Martin thought he had to split books four and five this way - geographically - but I'm not convinced. This time the book focuses on the viewpoints that A Feast for Crows
had ignored - concentrating on Jon, Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran and Reek (the wretch formerly known as Theon Greyjoy)
- and staying mostly around The Wall, the lands beyond The Wall and everything to the east of Westeros - is that Essos? But, for me it didn't work. I can see I'm going to have undertake a massive re-reading programme before Winds of Winter comes out, whenever that is. 2015 is my guess.
The characterisation and writing was up to Martin's usual standards, but by-and-large, the book felt like the collection of chapters that just weren't quite good enough to go into A Feast for Crows
. I think a large part of this is because the story is covering the same ground as that book. A lot of what you're reading isn't exactly new or shocking. Instead it's stuff you were generally able to guess or surmise from the parallel chapters.
Combined with my previous complaint about Martin's book one of a pair, A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow
, the story is really only half the story. Instead of excitement and action, you've got a lot of Martin moving his pieces around the board of his world so that they're all in the right places for the finale. Except the finale never comes because that's supposed to be in the next half. There's no sense of arriving at the end of this book, presumably the publisher has just took a knife through the middle of the spine of the hardback edition and used that as their guide for the two paperbacks.
That said, there's a lot to like about this book. The characters you missed from the previous book are back. Tyrion is as delightful and witty as ever, Jon is further developing his third dimension and realising that being Lord of the Watch involves some hard decisions, while Theon may still be a complete shit, you do also start to feel a little sorry for him, and Daenerys continues to try and juggle the desire to be both a fierce warrior princess with her need to be a compassionate queen who looks after the people in her kingdom. In all, a good start, but not a complete novel.