I must admit I spent a long time with this book wondering if and when anything was going to happen, despite being the second part of a much bigger book, it felt like it was setting things up for another part. But then THAT ending. I’m left not wanting more, but NEEDING more. Now I understand why so many fans feel frustrated with Martin and why impatience is rife amongst readers of this series of books, to leave a thread like that hanging for such a long time, during which the world has had the TV adaptation start and finish, well, the World needs answers, George, I need answers.
In hindsight, my complaints in my post about Dreams and Dust and how it could have been folded into A Feast for Crows have kind of come to bite me on the arse.
If Dreams and Dust is Theon at his lowest After the Feast is the beginning of his redemption. Whilst we never actively saw the things the Bolton Bastard was doing to Reek, we got to hear all about it and saw first hand the mental damage he had enacted on the once cocksure Theon Greyjoy. Reek isn’t even a shadow of that over-entitled, petty individual, though being exposed to the ever so slightly kinder Roose Bolton at the end of Dreams and Dust. He’s tasked with handing over Arya Stark at her marriage to Ramsey Bolton as the latter becomes the Lord of Winterfell. But when he sees who Arya really is he begins to find just a little bit of the old Theon again. Throughout the prior instalment, he chastises himself if he catches himself using or thinking of the name Theon, but after being given that name back in order to serve a role in this wedding, he begins to use the name more and more and ultimately manages to find the courage to escape, taking “Arya” with him. Obviously, things still aren’t as they should be for Theon by the end of the book, but his journey from Reek back to being a Greyjoy begins here and I found myself rooting for a character I loved to hate previously.
And Theon’s story reflects the whole tone of After the Feast. There’s a lot going on here, featuring characters old and new, and I think that it probably works better with A Dance with Dragons being split into these two parts than if they were the whole book (which many people will have read this as). The two sides to the one coin approach that was experimented with is still played with here, as at one point of the book we think we may have lost Daenerys and the tale of Meereen is then told from the point of view of her Queensguard, most notably Barristan Selmy, and with things still being a little up in the air in Essos, to say the least, I could see Selmy being a key viewpoint for a while longer, something I’m quite happy to follow as I found the position he was in to be fairly interesting within this world that Martin has created.
Barristan the Bold isn’t the only new viewpoint we get to witness things from, Dorne plays a key role in proceedings here, and we get to spend some time with the young Prince of Dorne, who has been sent to Essos to win the Queen’s hand in marriage (which obviously means dragons), though that doesn’t go to plan and that particular line of intrigue is cut short, though the consequences could be dear.
It seems an odd complaint to say that all of the big events happen in the final third, after all, that’s really how books are written, plotting and intrigue and conversations twist and turn until we get to the finale, but with this many strands it often feels like After the Feast isn’t really going anywhere, then BAM Jon’s in trouble, BAM the Prince of Dorne is dead, BAM Cersei’s acting weird and that usually doesn’t mean good news for anybody, BAM Daenerys is both thought to be dead and then shown to be alive (to the reader but not the characters that are concerned for her wellbeing) and lastly BAM Varys is back and being Varys and that’s not even the biggest revelation, which leads me back to my opening paragraph, I NEED to know what’s happening next, I don’t know how so many of you have waited nearly ten long, long years!