First off, I am not a hater of A Feast for Crows or A Dance with Dragons. I will acknowledge however that they are both much slower. But honestly, after the last three books ramped the HSQ Up to Eleven
in ways few readers anticipated, it's probably better that we have a breather. You know, before it's all dragon fire and anarchy and zombies everywhere. Let's take this moment to chill out and absorb some more of this world.
One other complaint that I should acknowledge is the absence of chapters featuring four of the more pivotal characters: Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, and Bran Stark. I would say this trims down the enjoyment factor of this book, but I won't. I will explain why in the review of A Dance with Dragons.
The primary characters in this novel are The Lannisters,
and the various enemies they've made in their devious bid for power. Following the infamous defeat they dealt to their rivals The Starks
(and the subsequent loss of two of their most prominent members), the incestuous twins Jaime and Cersei grow distant as they contemplate their family's legacy while also trying to keep the realm from crumbling.
Meanwhile, the Martells want vengeance against the Lannisters bad, only to be stilled by their meticulous patriarch, Prince Doran.
The renegade Greyjoys are, of course, out for themselves but nevertheless finding new ways to fight a losing war and make hell for everyone else.
The Tyrells seem to be climbing the power ladder as cleanly as they can, which is easier said than done when it comes to Cersei Lannister.
We get more unique insights through our independent characters. Like Brienne of Tarth, who undertakes a rather frustrating rescue mission that highlights war in all its tragedies, or Samwell Tarly whose training to become the Night's Watch's next maester reveals a whole new intriguing layer to this cake. Also the wayward Stark girls, Sansa and Arya's stories do more to shed light on the larger aspects of the series, such as "the game of thrones", the nature of identity and the mystery of magic.
While it may be slow going, I think that's just because GRRM literally published it as the first half of one book. There is still plenty of essential stuff here that's worth chewing on. Just not as much as the last books.