A Feast for Crows is the fourth of seven planned novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, an epic fantasy series by American author George R. R. Martin. The novel was first published on 17 October 2005 in the United Kingdom, with a United States edition following on 8 November 2005; however, it appeared ahead of the publication date in several UK bookshops. Its publication was preceded by a novella named Arms of the Kraken, which collected the first four Iron Islands chapters together. Arms of the Kraken was published in the August 2002 edition of Dragon Magazine. Another chapbook featuring three Daenerys chapters was published for BookExpo 2005, although these chapters were subsequently moved into the fifth volume, A Dance with Dragons.
Like its predecessor A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, one of the two most prestigious awards in science fiction and fantasy publishing, although it lost out the 2006 ballot to Robert Charles Wilson's Spin. A Feast for Crows was also the first novel in the sequence to debut at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, a feat among fantasy writers only previously achieved by David Eddings, Robert Jordan and Neil Gaiman.
Due to complexities that arose during the writing process, A Feast for Crows only includes some of the POV characters from the past novels, as well as some new characters who appear only briefly. The remaining characters will return in A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book.
In the city of Oldtown, a young novice of the Citadel named Pate steals a master key from one of the maesters and sells it to a mysterious man calling himself the Alchemist. Shortly after receiving his payment, Pate collapses in the street.
Cersei's reign is marked by her increasing distrust of the Tyrells, particularly her son's new wife Margaery. Increasingly paranoid over a prophecy she believes foretells the deaths of her children and herself at the hands of her missing brother Tyrion, she develops a dependency on alcohol. To settle the crown's debts to the Faith, she agrees to the restoration of that religion's military order, the Faith Militant. A scheme to have the Faith put Margaery on trial for largely-invented accusations on adultery goes wrong when the newly-powerful religious leadership arrests and imprisons Cersei herself on similar (and accurate) charges.
Cersei's brother and one-time lover Jaime travels the riverlands to re-establish order and royal control in the war-torn region. He has become estranged from his sister and newly concerned with his own honor, which he believes is tarnished by past misdeeds. After ending the siege of Riverrun, one of the last holdouts against his family's authority, he receives word that Cersei wants him to return and defend her in a trial by battle, but burns and apparently ignores the message.
On the Iron Islands, Euron Greyjoy is chosen king due to his promise that he can summon dragons that will help the islanders conquer all of Westeros. He sends his brother Victarion east to woo Daenerys Targaryen, but a bitter Victarion instead plans to marry her himself. Meanwhile, in Dorne, a disastrous attempt by Arianne Martell to crown Myrcella Baratheon as queen of Westeros under Dornish law leads Arianne's father Doran to reveal to her that he has his own subtler plan for vengeance; her brother Quentyn has gone east to bring back "Fire and blood." The attempt has also left Myrcella's face scarred, straining the new allegiance with House Lannister and the Iron Throne, as a member of the Kingsguard is on his way to Dorne with the head of The Mountain.
Brienne of Tarth's quest for Sansa Stark leads her all over the riverlands, where she observes the devastation and villainy that the war has wrought among the smallfolk. Eventually captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners, she is sentenced to death by her former ally Catelyn Stark, who wrongly believes Brienne has betrayed her. Brienne is told she will be allowed to live if she agrees to find and kill Jaime Lannister; refusing, she and some of her companions are hanged, and as the nooses strangle them she screams an unrevealed word.
Samwell Tarly is sent to the Citadel for training and to learn what they know of the Others. Accompanied by Maester Aemon, Dareon (another man of the Night's Watch), and the wildling girl Gilly, he travels to Braavos, where Aemon's ill health causes them to miss their boat and Dareon loses interest in their mission. Sam, Aemon, and Gilly eventually resume their voyage to Oldtown; while they are en route Aemon dies and Sam and Gilly become lovers. At Oldtown, Sam becomes a novice, and meets someone who claims to be the novice Pate.
Arriving in Braavos, Arya Stark finds her way to the House of Black and White, a temple associated with the assassins known as the Faceless Men. As a novice there, Arya attempts to master their belief that Faceless Men have no true identity by posing as a girl named "Cat of the Canals;" however, her former identity sometimes asserts itself, as when she kills Dareon for abandoning the Night's Watch. The morning after her return to the House of Black and White following this murder, she wakes up blind for reasons not explained.
In the Eyrie, Sansa Stark poses as Petyr Baelish's bastard daughter Alayne, befriending young Robert Arryn, managing the household for her "father," and receiving informal training in royal politics from him. He eventually reveals that he has betrothed her to Harrold Hardyng, Robert's heir; when the sickly Robert dies, Sansa will reveal her true identity, and reclaim her family stronghold of Winterfell.
As the novel ends, a winter that will likely last for years descends on Westeros, promising famine and suffering for an already war-ravaged land.
The reason for the subsequent delays were that the novel grew too long and the format changed from the previous book, with the introduction of short-lived POV characters who only had one or two chapters apiece. Martin also wrote a 250-page prologue to the novel which he then scrapped and scattered throughout the novel. Finally, when the novel was nearing completion his publishers realised it was significantly longer than A Storm of Swords and requested it be split in half for publication. After initially considering publishing it as 'Part 1' and 'Part 2', Martin's friend and fellow author Daniel Abraham suggested splitting it by POV and location instead, which Martin agreed with. Thus A Feast for Crows only contains the POV characters from the South of the Seven Kingdoms and the Iron Islands. The characters in the North, in the Free Cities and in Meereen (including fan-favourites Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen) will return in the fifth book. The split of the novel also meant that the series would be seven rather than six books long. A Dance with Dragons remains the title of the fifth book.
Martin supplied a note at the end of A Feast for Crows explaining the reason for the split and promising that A Dance with Dragons would follow with the missing POV characters 'next year'. However, subsequently Martin embarked on a four-month signing tour in the US, Canada and Europe at the request of his publishers and lost that time in writing the novel. As of now, the expected publishing date is April 2009.
In A Storm of Swords, a ship named the Cobblecat is mentioned as the vessel Davos Seaworth was sailing on when he first saw the Wall. This is possibly an allusion to the cobalcat (shortened from cobalt panther); a fictional feline from Martin's short story A Beast For Norn.
In the chapter titled "The Kraken's Daughter", Lord Rodrik Harlaw mentions an Archmaester named Rigney and his (Rigney's) belief that time is a wheel. This seems to be an allusion to fantasy author Robert Jordan (whose real name is James Rigney) and his popular series, The Wheel of Time. Another character first mentioned in A Storm of Swords, the Dornish lord Trebor Jordayne of the Tor, is also an allusion to Jordan: Tor Books is Jordan's best-known publisher, and "Trebor" is "Robert" backwards.
In the Chapter "Cat of the Canals" a reference is made to a story about the "Lord of the Woeful Countance," which is believed to be a reference to Don Quixote.