Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

My Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.50 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.50 / 5.00

This is the third book in Mr Martin’s highly acclaimed ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series. I have previously reviewed Book 1: A Game of Thrones & Book 2: A Clash of Kings

Warning: this review contains numerous spoilers for the previous two titles: if you have not read them, then I would suggest that you avoid the rest of my review.

King Renly Baratheon is dead, killed by a mysterious shadow of his brother, King Stannis. The person blamed for his death, Brienne of Tarth, has sworn allegiance to Catelyn Stark and is now making her way from King Robb Stark’s camp at Riverrun to King’s Landing with Jaime Lannister, hoping to exchange him for Catelyn’s daughters. Sansa is still a prisoner in the capital, but Arya is actually a fugitive from Roose Bolton’s Harrenhal and is leading her friends Hot Pie and Gendry towards Riverrun.

Defeated in the Battle of the Blackwater, King Stannis has withdrawn to Dragonstone to heal his wounds and wait for Melisandre to see another course of action in her flames. Meanwhile, Tywin Lannister has taken his place as the King’s Hand, replacing the badly injured Tyrion, who has yet to be thanked for almost single-handedly saving the city from Stannis’ forces. Instead, all the praise is poured upon the Tyrells, who joined their cause to that of the Lannisters after Renly’s death, and preparations are being made for Margaery to wed King Joffrey (poor woman).

In the East, Daenerys is travelling from Qarth aboard the ships sent by Magister Illyrio Mopatis. On the journey Ser Barristan Selmy tells her a great deal about her family, while Ser Jorah Mormont relates the tale of the Unsullied of Astapor. Deciding that she needs an army that she can trust, Daenerys decides to claim the Unsullied as her own and turns her small fleet towards the slaver city.

In the North, Bran, Hodor and the Reeds continue their journey towards the Wall, following Jojen’s greendreams. Beyond the Wall, Jon meets Mance Rayder and starts to infiltrate the Wildling Army, while some of the Brothers begin to talk mutiny and plan to kill Lord Commander Mormont. However, an attack by the Others interrupts their plans.

Yet again, we have new POV characters. They are needed so that we can continue to follow the action as it unfolds in an increasing number of places, although we have not lost a narrator as we did with the death of Ned Stark.

One of our new POVs is a surprising choice, because he was portrayed as almost a villain for the first two books in the series: Jaime Lannister. I was somewhat wary of sharing his thoughts, but I have to say that his chapters have almost completely changed my view of the character: I now understand why so many people choose him as one of their favorites. It would seem that he is not the crazed incestuous murderer that we have been led to believe. Yes, he is in love with Cersei, and they have committed incest on numerous occasions, but there is something honest about his love for her. He genuinely wants to live with her as husband and wife and has no real ambition or interest in the ‘game of thrones’. We also grow to understand his real reasons for killing King Aerys and his bitterness at his title of Kingslayer. His interplay with Brienne is very entertaining and the two develop a close relationship: it is interesting that he is happy to acknowledge her prowess and does not judge her simply on her sex.

Now that Jon is beyond the Wall, we need a set of eyes with the Night’s Watch, and so we gain Sam’s POV as he witnesses the Others attacking Lord Mormont’s camp. I was very happy to see this, because Sam is one of my favorite characters in the series. Also, his first chapter in this book is one of the best in the series so far, as we follow Sam struggling through the snow after the Other’s attack the Brothers’ camp. We see the attack as a series of flashbacks, all confusion and panic, and the aftermath as Sam plods through a blizzard berating himself for being a craven and wishing that he could be brave. Sam’s very weakness is what makes him such a great character, especially in this book, where he accidentally does something very brave and earns himself the title “Slayer”. I love the way that we follow his thoughts around in circles and how he is so observant about the world around him.

As for other new characters, the more notable ones belong to one of two interesting groups: the Brave Companions, led by Vargo Hoat, and Beric Dondarrion’s Brotherhood Without Banners. While the Brave Companions are mostly horrific and disgusting, Beric’s men are a very mixed bunch. I particularly like Beric himself, who is a shade of his former self, due his constant resurrection by one of the other more interesting characters, Thoros of Myr. This Red Priest has spent many years in King’s Landing eating and drinking, wielding a flaming sword during tourneys and generally not being a very good priest. However, after accidentally calling Beric back to life he has rediscovered his faith and now sees himself as a man blessed by R’hllor.

The other major new character to burst into our story is Oberyn Martell, The Red Viper. He is a real force of nature, with his multiple bastard children and riveting personality. He gets along famously with Mighty Tyrion, which shows that he is a great judge of character, and makes a surprising decision towards the end of the book that totally infuriates Tywin Lannister: good for him!

We also see some new developments from our favorite characters. Arya is kidnapped by The Hound, who is now masterless and lost, but still remains a very ‘grey’ person, reinforcing my impression that he is a relatively good person who has survived by being completely ruthless. He decide to return Arya to her family in Riverrun in the hopes of a reward, which is not the most valiant of decisions, but at least he does not see her as a way back into the Lannister’s service. Arya also begins to dream as a wolf. No doubt this is Nymeria, who now leads a pack of normal wolves and is ravaging the Riverlands. This warging is still uncontrolled, but I am hopeful that Arya will begin to develop her talent.

Davos Seaworth begins the book lost after the Battle of Blackwater and desperate after witnessing the deaths of four of his sons. He is drawn back from the point of death by the Seven and returns to Stannis’ service. As endearing as always in his low opinion of himself, he resolves to learn to read, and so uncovers a vital letter from the Night’s Watch which will prove momentous in King’s decision of what to do next. Meanwhile, Littlefinger is rewarded for his efforts in negotiating the Tyrells’ support for Joffrey with marriage to Lysa Arryn. Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems with him, and his plans take a quite unexpected turn.

Ser Barristan Selmy continues to grow in my estimation as he advises Daenerys and acts as the first of her Queensguard. There is genuine regret in his voice when he talks about Rhaegar, suggesting that the young prince was as exceptional as people say. He is also still a very skilled warrior, which makes we wonder how much more impressive he must have been when he was in his prime. Meanwhile, Melisandre begins to show that she is not a cynical manipulator: she is trying to defeat the Great Other, Lord of Darkness, and it seems that she genuinely believes that she is doing the right thing. Only time will tell whether she is correct or not about Stannis being Azor Ahai reborn, but she is certainly not the charlatan that I originally believed her to be.

Above all else, though, this is a book of endings because we see the deaths of several major characters. These will leave you reeling with shock, especially as they are all unexpected, although one of them will have you cheering like crazy . . . or perhaps that was just me, because I am evil and I REALLY hated the character. Also, if you were in any doubt about whether or not Tywin Lannister is evil, you will find your answer here.

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  1. I love Tyrion. I haven't been able to finish the fourth book because he isn't really in it and a whole bunch of new characters are introduced. My other favorite is Arya. This post may get me back into the books.

  2. I think Tyrion is my favorite character of all time, so I really did miss him whilst reading A Feast for Crows, but he is a large part of A Dance with Dragons, so it is worth pushing through the Imp-free zone! :)


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