When Cersei Lannister ruled the pages of Feast for Crows, I found her to be one of the most intriguing character in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin uses this slower book to show us beneath the many facades of perceived evil and develop a theme that is as disturbing as it is enlightening. Peeling back layer upon layer, Martin takes us into the heart of a woman who outwardly is wicked, but inwardly is as vulnerable and terrified as anyone else. In Feast for Crows, we see in Cersei a steady decay, a growing desperation that feeds vanity and a false sense of invincibility. She generalizes people, she hates, she plots, but she also cowers, hides and frets. She is, at heart, a wounded girl who never learned to trust and has consequently built a life out of lies; she’s good, but she’s evil.
Cersei as a viewpoint character creates a bitter-sweet encounter with the unsettling truths Martin is depicting in his rich tapestry. It is well done. His writing challenges our concept of what evil truly is, and the relativity that exists behind the construct we know as morality. “There is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so,” says Rosencrantz and Shakespeare both, and Martin in this modern day invokes medieval forms to show us the same disturbing truth.
When I read I like to be challenged not only by characters and their conflicts, but the truths I encounter. It’s not about escape, but about deepening my appreciation for the world and what it means to be human. Martin, in Feast, and through Cersei Lannister, does this fully, making us uncomfortable on the deepest of levels, yet at the same time shaking us with the resonance of profound chords of reality. He’s not out for shock, he’s not out to impress us. He’s simply devoted to the truth–not his truth or my truth or your truth, but the one that lies somewhere in between.
Like Melisandre’s Lord of Light, it’s one thing, bright and burning, but found through shadows; like the Many Gods, it comes in myriad forms. Thus it escapes us, but we can’t escape it.
(Based on a series of posts at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)