This, I was told, was when the series started to lose its focus. And I can definitely see it. The plot feels a bit stalled, not as many things happen - or rather, not as many things happen that are world-shaking. And, of course, it's only about half the characters.
And yet, it somehow worked for me. I was personally interested to see what characters on the fringes were thinking about the world-shaking events occurring, and what I was reading was interesting enough, the lack of forward-moving plot didn't really bother me. The world remains richly drawn, the characters fascinating, the aftereffects of a civil war that isn't really over stark and unsettling.
I am not saying this is a perfect book. But I didn't have the issues with it that some seem to have. I think I'm just fine with meandering, as long as I'm interested in what's going on. And this book felt a lot like the lull in the storm, with the clouds on the horizon.
Specifically, though, I wanted more Arya, but I always want more Arya. I never hated Sansa, but I'm more interesting in her story now than I used to be. Arianne is a great new character. Dammit, I keep liking Jaime. That hasn't changed.
But I found Cersei's descent into paranoia possibly the most interesting - we get to see every bad decision, every time she decides that because she can imagine a conspiracy, it must therefore exist. We see her misinterpret (I'm pretty sure) a prophecy, and base her activities on that. And through it all, she keeps telling herself she must act like her father, while instead lashing out at all those around her. Since I dislike Cersei, there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in watching her actions.
And here is where I differ with my husband most - I was okay with Tyrion not being in this book. Don't get me wrong, I love Tyrion, but if you had to break the book up in the way that was done, this was the right choice. When we don't know what happened to Tyrion, every time Cersei thinks he's hiding in the walls, he could very well be. I doubt it, but that uncertainty made her uncertainty more interesting. There's a little bit of menace to that mystery.
I look forward to having him back, but in an odd way, I think his absence worked.