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Review: A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire) by George Martin

By / July 29, 2011 / no comments

A Storm of Swords is the third in the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire and is to date the longest of all the books published. In the United Kingdom the book was published in two halves, respectively called Steel and Snow and Blood and Gold. The novels are set in a factious war torn world, where five kings are battling for the throne and long lost magic’s are slowly reawakening. The story picks up a little before the ending of the previous book A Clash of Kings and opens in a prologue of men of the Nights Watch, a group of sworn brothers, dressed in black and devoted to protected to realm of the Seven Kingdoms from the dangers of unknown magic and lawless free folk that live beyond the 700 foot wall of ice that marks the end of the civilized world.

The prologue sets the tone for the rest of the book, which is full of death, dark magic and gut wrenching tension and tragedy; yet even this does not prepare you for some of the shocks in the pages that follow.

You are re-introduced to characters known to you previously, but in a new light as many of them are now given their own point of view chapters through which the stories are told. Most notably Ser Jaime Lannister; a lethal swordsman, secret father of King Joffrey Baratheon, who was born of the incestuous union between Jaime and his twin sister Cersei. Until this point Jaime Lannister has been one of the worst enemies of the Stark family, the lead characters of the novels, however A Storm of Swords provides an intriguing insight into his actions and motivations and in spite of all your previous judgement readers can not help but find that he grows on them.

Other chapters in the book are told through the eyes of the Stark children, Arya, Bran and Sansa and their bastard born Brother Jon Snow, a member of the Night’s Watch. The children have been separated since the murder of their father in King’s Landing in the first novel and the uprising of their brother Robb as King in the North. Arya is crossing the war torn Westeros, heading for Riverrun where her mother and brother are seeking refuge in the castle in which Catelyn Stark spent her childhood. Sansa is still trapped in King’s Landing, where she is forced to behave as though she loves and is loyal to King Joffrey and his mother Queen Regent Cersei. Bran and the youngest Stark Rickon have separated and are both crossing the North in search of safety and answers, whilst Jon is beyond the Wall feigning loyalty to the wilding free folk in order to infiltrate the army that is intending on breaching the divide between the Seven Kingdoms.

Personally the story that is taking place in the North is the one that intrigued me the most; the magic slowly building in Bran and the danger facing Jon Snow and his brothers in the Night’s Watch, particularly the overweight Samwell Tarly who finds himself lost in the wilderness of the Haunted Forest and face to face with deathly spirits and long dead creatures. Here the dark and magical nature of fantasy is explored with a strangely intimate nature; the chapters of Jon, Sam and Bran allow you an insight to the growing magic of the novel but with a personal edge. Bran finds himself on a journey of discovery, beginning to understand his own ability to transport his mind into the body of other men and creatures, whilst Jon finds his loyalty torn between the woman he loves and the oath he swore and Sam, the self confessed craven, finds his bravery is tested over and over again. Adventures with wolves, abandoned castles and ghostly wights fill the pages of these chapters and Martin’s writing brings the chilly and haunting landscape of life beyond the Wall to life with such force and grace that you find your insides knotted with anticipation.

Further into Westeros Lady Catelyn Stark has released Jaime Lannister and bid her servant Brienne of Tarth, a female knight, to see him safely to King’s Landing and exchange him for her daughter Sansa who Catelyn believes is one of only two of her remaining children. At Riverrun Catelyn watches her son Robb conduct his army and make many a brave and foolish decision. These chapters allow you a wonderfully maternal insight into the war, where Catelyn, desperate and grief stricken, will do anything to reunite herself with her remaining children. Robb finds himself wed to a young girl, Jeyne, breaking a promise made to one of his least trustworthy lords. The chapters that surround the wedding conducted to make amends for Robb’s behaviour are enough to leave you feeling sick from the tension and tearful from the outcome. The hours following these few chapters, which fall a little after the mid point of the novel and the start of the second section, left me wordless until I was able to pick up the book again and read on long enough to find out the fate of the characters. Here Martin displays his prowess for tension and suspense, many a chapter ends on a cliff hanger, leaving the reader desperate to read on but this part of the book leaves you so shocked and in such disbelief that you find yourself almost unable to concentrate on anything else.

The weakest chapters of the books are those told through Davos and Queen Daenerys Stormborn, the latter of which finally begin to pick up toward the end of the book when it is revealed that she has liars and spies in her closest circle. The story of Davos however simply serves to integrate King Stannis Baratheon into the book and they lack a strong hook or the elements of tension that run so strongly through the rest of the book.

Meanwhile Arya and Sansa Stark, Jaime and his dwarf brother Tyrion Lannister, and smuggler knight Davos Seaworth are all trying to find their own place within the war. Arya is on the road to Riverrun when she is caught by a group of outlaws headed by knights once loyal to her father and the old king. These outlaws worship a god unfamiliar to Arya, who has the power to bring the dead back to life. The knowledge Arya gains of this strange god is coupled with the mysteries of the sacred weirwood trees that dot the lands of Westeros and the disparate wolf dreams that haunt Arya at night. The stirrings of magic that Arya encounters whilst travelling through the wild add another layer to the dark and monstrous magic that Jon and Sam are experiencing beyond the Wall.

In King’s Landing Tyrion Lannister is locked in a constant battle for power against his sister, which he finds himself at the loosing end of upon the arrival of his father, Lord Tywin Lannister, who takes up the role of King’s Hand. Lord Tywin forces marriages of conveyance upon Sansa and Tyrion and his grandson Joffrey, in an attempt to forge peace across the shattered Kingdom. However this simply leads to more tension and tragedy within the castle walls and a death that marks a turn in the fate of Tyrion Lannister forever. Eventually Tryion’s older brother Jaime finds him reunited with his sister and a member of the King’s Guard, an honourable group of knights sworn to the protection of the boy king.

The length of this third instalment in the Song of Ice and Fire series is quite daunting at first, however as you read you discover that to the books detriment much of the length lies in Martin’s penchant for lists and description; some of which is important, others of which are simply indulgent and un-necessary. Martin seems to relish naming all the guests at each feast, describing the sigils of their lordly house or the glamour of their clothing. This quickly becomes very tedious and you can not help but zone out or skim read these paragraphs. Once you become accustomed to Martin’s writing you find yourself able to skip large chunks of text on instinct without missing anything of importance. It is this aspect of the book that leaves you exhausted after reading only a short part of the book, and realistically leaves you feeling the book needed a stronger editorial hand. The cliff hanger endings of the chapters help to keep you interested however, although I worry that without them it could be poor enough to put you off reading the book all together.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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