There be spoilers in this review (and bears) and possibly even in the plot synopsis! You have been warned! If you'd like to see Fernando's thoughts on this book, you can find his earlier review here.
A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice & Fire #3)
George RR Martin
Released in 2001
Epic Fantasy / Seriously Epic
Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin's magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.
Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. And as opposing forces maneuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords...
George RR Martin loves the sound of his written voice. That’s why he spends pages upon pages writing about every course of a meal, describes every banner and the associated banner men that our characters pass, and fills space with nattering that don’t really have anything to do with anything other than Martin wanted to write some more and his editors don’t feel as though he should be edited. That’s not to say that a lot of things don’t happen in this book because there is absolutely a lot of action taking place; it just takes places with 25 or 30 pages of padding between each event.
This is a book of weddings and bears. I’m not entirely sure what this volume’s obsession with bears is, but they are mentioned in various situations that have nothing in relationship. Bears are in songs, they’re in zombie hordes, at weddings, and pretty pissed off in fighting rings. They're probably even fighting in one or two of the armies in disguise. I don’t recall this many bears in the first two volumes combined, but the unsung heroes of this volume are clearly the bears.
I feel like some of the characters featured in the books were hardly seen at all and yet I couldn’t tell you who took up most of the 1100 pages. Arya probably has the most chapters, wandering the countryside getting nabbed by all sorts of men of ill-repute. A lot of things happen in King’s Landing of course, but luckily it’s all told from the point of view of Tyrion so I don’t have to suffer through the POVs of Joffrey and Cersei as I did in previous books. Jon probably has the third most screen time, but it didn’t seem as much because his storyline was my favorite with the most progress from start to finish. He starts out as a seeming turncoat, traveling with the hordes of wildlings advancing against the wall only to go through several life changing events with his sanity intact. It’s pretty impressive.
Dany appears very little and when she does, it’s to attack a city and doubt the men around her, trying to determine which will be the next to betray her. I get that time needs to pass for her dragons to grow and for her to become a more mature potential ruler, but each of her chapters felt as though they were repeating the one before just with new scenery and a growing number of followers. Bran is seen less than a handful of times and his plotline is not really advanced as he and his protectors travel to the wall. He can see through the eyes of his direwolf. Hodor yells “HODOR!” a lot. That’s about all that happens to them.
Jaime gets his own chapters and, while he continues to be a douche, events occur that lead him to question his own purpose and attitudes. It makes him more sympathetic and, especially when directly compared with the cold calculated methods of his twin sister Cersei, slightly more likeable. Davos and Stannis just don’t interest me. They haven’t really from the beginning, so sitting through chapters of Davos hating on the Red Lady witch person and watching people continue the same arguments just got tiresome.
Sansa likewise gets to be a tiny bit more useful, but still mostly just follows the commands of those around her. Essentially she gets dragged around a lot and is probably the biggest pawn in the game, who has no clue what is even going on. Her mother, Catelyn, is the sole eye into the events of Rob’s war and the devastation caused by bad choices made by a young boy king. Hers is the most heartbreaking and the plotline that leaves me the most unhappy.
And then there’s Sam – dopey, sweet, fearful Sam. He was some of a background character that didn’t really have an effect on me, and then he gets the most interesting story like beside Jon. While he does an equal amount of traveling across vast plains, interesting things happen at various points in his journey rather than just every now and again. Some of the most “OMG!” moments involve Sam, and he continues to be one of the most moral and sympathetic character in this book. While he doesn’t have much character growth, the fact that he doesn’t crumble completely in the face of what he goes through is pretty amazing.
Now I’m going to be even vaguer because it’s hard to talk about this book in general terms. Half the characters spend the book traveling from point A to point B, often having no idea where point B is in the first place. This book is full of weddings. There are bears. People die. If you are like me, you will fight the urge to throw the book on the ground and stomp on it, and not just because of the word count.
But really what this book needed more of was Gendry being a stupid teenage boy, who has a secret crush on Arya and doesn’t know how to express it. Perhaps if it had more of that, I would have stayed more engaged with this book instead of zipping through it as quickly as I could.
I think that just means I need to go back to YA rather than saying anything about Martin or his massive series.
Epic series is epic. Bears.