A disapointment. After an excruciating 5 year wait since A Storm of Swords
, the expectations were pretty high so it's not surprising that a novel written by a mere mortal would have trouble living up. Even so, given Martin's well known rationale for taking so long, that the book had grown so large and unweildy that he had to split it into two volumes (telling the whole story of some characters in this volume, leaving the rest for the other half, due 2006/2007 we still hope), I'm not sure this is what we expected. We expected large and sprawling and we got it. We expected a large cast of characters, some good, some bad, most shades of grey and we got that too. I think we also expected compelling but we didn't get very much of that. We expected action and adventure and got unbelievably little of that. Political intrigue? We expected that in pretty good doses but really that's all we got.
The main problem with AFfC
is that it is dull dull dull. Martin has taken the strengths of the series and turned them into flaws. A large cast of characters becomes bewildering and diffuse. Political intrigue becomes byzantine and pointless. Action and adventure leave centre stage and are replaced by endless wandering and political gabfests. The most compelling characters, Tyrion and Dani? Left to the next volume.
So, the problems are structural. There's still lots of good stuff here -- the last 100 pages or so save the novel from train-wreck status -- with the main plot being somewhat advanced. The problem is really that of length. At least two or three of the viewpoint characters could have been completely removed, such as Brienne's story. That could have been reduced to a paragraph in the Jaime thread easily. Also, some of the threads were massively over-emphasized. Cercei is the main example of this one: her story could have been effectively told in about half the space. One of the best bits, the story of the Iron Islands, should have told in a more focussed way, instead it was very diffuse.
A couple of quibbles -- it would have been nice if Martin had used the same names for characters in the chapter headings. A couple of characters switch names half-way through and it was a bit confusing. Also, the Iron Islands chapters needed consistent names rather than all over the place. It would also have been nice if each chapter indicated some sort of chronology and location at the beginning. When people are travelling around and with so many viewpoints, it would have been nice to be able to place a chapter on the map right away. Finally, Martin didn't do such a good job of getting us all up to speed after the long gap; most people will not have recently reread the previous books.