Review: “A Storm Of Swords” by George R.R. Martin

Title: A Storm Of Swords
Author: George R.R. Martin
Series: A Song Of Ice And Fire, Volume III
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Bantam, 2003

Three down, two to go! Then I’ll join the horde of poor souls clamoring for the next book’s release…. Obviously, I loved this one. This is no real surprise, though, since everyone says this is the high point of the series so far. Given the awkward structure of the next two books, I can certainly understand that. Obviously, this will contain MAJOR spoilers for the first two books. You’ve been warned!

The chaos that has engulfed Westeros is abating slightly, in that the War of the Five Kings seems to be winding down a bit, but that in no way means that normalcy is anywhere on the horizon. In fact, for most of our favorite characters, things just keep on going from bad to worse. Stannis Baratheon’s bid to capture King’s Landing was foiled spectacularly by the cunning of Tyrion Lannister, but our favorite dwarf was nearly killed in the fighting. When he awakens from his wine-and-poppy coma, he finds himself without a nose….or his position as the King’s Hand. Instead of being hailed as the savior of King’s Landing, all Tyrion has earned is the hatred of the smallfolk. Now under the distrustful eyes of his father and sister, Tyrion is left little power to wield as he navigates the corridors of power. In the Riverlands, Robb Stark’s cause is dealt a deathblow by the loss of the North to Ironborn raiders. On the battlefield, Robb remains undefeated. In every other arena, things are looking dire. People are whispering about this young king who has won every battle, yet managed to lose the war. Heartbroken by the news of the supposed deaths of her two youngest sons, Catelyn Stark has committed treason, releasing Jaime Lannister from his captivity in exchange for the freedom of her daughters held captive in King’s Landing. Unfortunately for her, events have moved beyond such an exchange. While Tyrion would have honored that deal, Tywin has no such intention. Arya was never captured, escaping the city in the guise of a young boy headed to the Wall and now roaming the Riverlands trying to find her way to her mother at Riverrun. Sansa, on the other hand, has had a harsh time of things in King’s Landing. Now it looks as though she’s to be freed from her engagement to the young monster Joffrey, but such a stroke of good fortune can only last so long….Meanwhile, Bran and Rickon are far from dead. The treacherous Theon Greyjoy was unable to catch them, and so resorted to killing and mutilating a couple of peasant boys in the hopes that everyone would believe them dead. Now Rickon is being protected by the Wildling Osha while Bran travels north towards the wall with Jojen and Meera Reed in search of the three-eyed crow that haunts his dreams. North of the wall, Jon Snow walks a fine line as he pretends to be a deserter from the watch, all while watching for an opening to escape and report back to his brothers all he’s learned….if they don’t execute him for desertion when he gets there. Across the sea, Daenerys strikes a desperate gamble for the forces she will need in order to return to Westeros and reclaim her father’s throne….

Longtime readers of A Song Of Ice And Fire hail A Storm Of Swords as the high point in the series, at least as its been published so far. While I have yet to read A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons, I am inclined to agree. This was spectacular. Martin’s prose improves here, if anything. While some might describe the plot as rambling (a fair assessment, I suppose), I never got bored with it. The plot moved quickly despite various side roads, and the characters involved more than hold your interest through every up and down. And speaking of characters, Martin continues to shine here. The characters you already love get more complex, and new favorites are added to the mix…including one or two that you thought you hated. Believe it or not, all it takes to turn Jaime Lannister into an interesting character is the ability to get into his head. We got maybe a hint of his intriguing nature at the end of A Clash Of Kings, while he was being interrogated by Catelyn, but being inside his head takes the edge off his offensive tongue. Turns out he’s far more complex and conflicted than we’d been previously led to believe, and this reveal has been in the works since the first book. To say more would be to court spoilers, so I’ll shut up now. We also get a bit more insight into Tywin Lannister, though increased understanding does not necessarily bring with it increased affection. Tyrion is once again placed on the defensive, removed from his previous position of power and trying desperately to survive the machinations of his sister and father. As a result, he is somewhat less entertaining if no less interesting this time around. Without spoiling things, the major blows he takes towards the end of the book leave me holding my breath to see what happens to him next…and frustrated that I have to wait until book five to find out. In short, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. So go read it already!

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, not gratuitous, but not rare either. Rampant, disturbing violence, from hangings and decapitations to occasionally more grotesque fates–flaying comes up occasionally, though we don’t actually “see” that happen. There’s not-infrequent reference to torture though. Again, a fair amount of sexual content, including topics such as incest, rape, underage sex, and prostitution. Not really rendered in gratuitous detail, but often frankly and/or crudely discussed. There are also some elements that could be considered occultic, beyond the usual fantasy-based magic of dragons and monsters. The Others command an army of reanimated corpses, while the followers of R’hllor wield some very real power, including resurrecting the dead and reading the future (though not always reliably).

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