I read through the fourth book in A Song of Ice and Fire with a kind of strange perspective. Of the first three, there had certainly been things that I’d liked, but there’d also been a lot of things that I didn’t like. By this point in time, I go in not really expecting to enjoy myself, but just wanting to find out what happens. To some extent, having zero expectations means that I was able to enjoy it more. I suppose the best way of putting it is to say that it when you’re in a room with a bad smell, you eventually get used to that bad smell and I do find myself slowly getting used to the smell of A Song of Ice and Fire.
So, spoiler alert for the previous book, one thing that quite disappointed me was that the cliff-hanger of the last book (Catelyn’s unexpected return) isn’t revisited until right at the end and even then, not much is done with it. Plus, knowing that this book is contemporaneous with the next one, I have a feeling that this plot development won’t really be explored in the next book either, which is a shame considering how crazy this revelation is.
That’s another thing about this book: half the characters aren’t in it. Because Martin wanted to have this book set at the same time as the next one, with each book showing the experiences of half the characters, you don’t get to see what Daenerys or Tyrion are doing in this one, which is a shame since their storylines are some of the more interesting ones. Still, you do get to see Brienne, Samwell, Jamie and Arya and I generally enjoyed their storylines. In fact, with Jamie in particular, I started to grow quite fond of him, even though he hadn’t done much for me before. He has a nice character arc.
One thing I’d like to mention her is that I’ve always thought that Martin was quite bad at writing female characters and generally quite leery in the way that he did so. In this book, I feel like he started to get just a little bit better at that, though the leeriness reared its head again from time to time. Obviously, he already had Brienne and Arya, who I think he writes well, but there was also a new character called Asha who was really good and I think she reflects this change.
Although, while Asha was a nice addition, this book adds six new point of view characters and there’s just so many characters at this point, many of whom only have a few chapters to themselves, and I just didn’t care about a lot of them. In the earlier books, I’d recognise the names of all the point of view characters and know what to expect with each new chapter. This time, I’d often find that the next chapter was from the POV of a character I’ve never heard of and I’d just groan inwardly at having to get to know another random person. Besides Asha, none of them really enticed me that much.
To some extent, it feels as though the story could and should have been wrapped up in the third book, but that loads of extra plot-elements have just been added to keep things going. Everything here feels quite removed from the first three novels and, to some extent, this feels weird – but you do also get the impression that the world has changed a lot as a consequence of all that’s happened and I did like that.
Overall though, while there are certainly positives, this book was a slog to get through. It’s so long and so many parts felt superfluous to me. It could probably have been half the length and not lost its positives. So many scenes and even whole chapters that just went on and on and seemed to contribute nothing to the overall story. If you’ve read this far into the series, you know what to expect, but this one was especially guilty of it. It’s not a bad book, but it’s far from being a good one.