The 4th book in the epic fantasy series is as exhilarating as the previous three. Martin explains at the end of the book how his original manuscript was too large for publication considering the ongoing saga of the multitude of characters we were introduced to in the first three volumes. And so he decided that it was “better served by a book that told all the story for half the characters, rather than half the story for all the characters.”
Therefore this book focuses on just the characters from King’s Landing, The Riverlands, The Eyrie, The Iron Islands, Dorne, Oldtown, and Braavos. At King’s Landing we have the Lannisters who include the evil Queen Regent Cersei, twin brother Jaime, 8-year old King Tommen who succeeded King Joffrey, the Tyrells of Highgarden who include Queen Margaery, Tommen’s wife (yeah, forced to marry at 8 to cement the alliance with the Tyrells), and an assortment of cronies aligned to Cersei.
Elsewhere the continuing tales of Brienne of Tarth, Petyr Baelish and Sansa Stark, The Greyjoys of The Iron Islands, The Martells of Dorne, and Samwell Tarly of the Wall, play out.
We also continue to enjoy the story of Arya Stark’s journey to Braavos since fleeing from King’s Landing after the execution of her father Eddard Stark.
There is a great deal of moral ambiguity throughout the book, indeed in all 4 volumes thus far. While one is accustomed to good triumphing over evil and the good guys always winning in the end, the good guys in Martin’s books don’t necessarily always come out on top, nor do the bad guys always get their comeuppance. Martin allows for the characters we initially despise, to be able to redeem themselves. And a lot of the good guys die unnecessarily.
However some of the characters such as Cersei and Joffrey were irredeemably bad, and while we know that the latter suffered an agonising death in the previous book, Cersei’s scheming and cruelty goes unpunished, at least until the end of this book. But I’ll have to wait for the next installments to find out to what extent she suffers.
In conclusion, I once again found the historical backgrounds provided for the characters, too in-depth and long-winded. However, so fantastic is the overall story that I’m willing to overlook this, and eagerly look forward to Book 5.