(By request of H. Considine.) One of the reasons I haven't had a 50 Book Challenge post in a while is because I reread the second and third volumes (about 2000 pages in mass-market paperback) of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series in preparation for his long-awaited A Feast For Crows. The fourth book was supposed to have come out over a year ago. The original plan was to set it five years after the action in A Storm of Swords, which would give several youthful characters opportunities to grow up so they could be more active participants in the plotlines. This fell by the wayside, though, and AFFC takes up where the preceding book left off, although for only half the characters.
My reading of this book started out quick and then slowed down. The writing is repetitive and some of the plotlines don't seem to go anywhere; Brienne wanders for chapters to no real effect, and Sam spends a lot of time listening to a crying woman in a boat. Boo. Reader favorites like Tyrion and Dany are absent entirely, and Martin introduces new characters and points of view that seem extraneous and poorly drawn: a couple of dull and two-dimensional Ironmen, a few briefly sketched maesters, and some interchangeable septons. Some returning characters get more development, which I welcomed for Jaime and Brienne but could have done without for Samwell and Cersei, who replaces Catelyn Stark as the resident annoying and idiotic mother figure. There are a few good Arya chapters, and I no longer pray for Sansa's death, but the ratio of good female characters to good male characters remains low.
I hate to say it, but this book bored me. It even had a bit of that Robert Jordan pointlessness to it. And while I admire Martin's willingness to kill off or brutally maim his characters in ways that are actually consistent with the effects of total war (contrast the usual action-movie approach in which a limp or a German-looking duelling scar is the worst a creator will inflict), one event in particular added injury to insult in a gratuitous manner. As indicated in previous books, the amount of magic in Martin's world is on the rise, but the magic horn unearthed by one new character had a nasty tang of Deus ex machina. I'm not looking forward to its use.
Martin leaves us with cliffhangers with respect to at least three major characters, but we probably won't find out their fates until 2008 or so, since A Dance With Dragons, coming out next year, deals with absent characters during the same time period as the action in AFFC. I bought this in hardback because I couldn't wait for the library. That was a mistake, although its being less great than its predecessors doesn't mean it isn't worth reading.
All of your Song of Ice and Fire needs can be met here and here.