A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
First Published: 2000
Pages: 1123 excluding character lists (Paperbacks, book 1: 569, book 2: 554)
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #3
Warning: I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers for this book in my review but there is really no way to discuss the book without revealing spoilers about the first two. Even just the blurbs for this series are pretty spoilerific so everything’s going under the cut.
Blood runs truer than oaths
The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud as winter approaches like an angry beast. In the northern wastes a horde of hungry, savage people steeped in the dark magic of the wilderness is poised to invade the Kingdom of the North where Robb Stark wears his new-forged crown. And Robb’s defences are ranged against the South, the land of the cunning and cruel Lannisters, who have his young sisters in their power.
Throughout Westeros the war for the Iron Throne rages more fiercely than ever, but if the Wall is breached, no king will live to claim it.
I love love love this series but I really don’t think I’ll ever be able to give any of the individual books five stars. A Storm of Swords was a huge improvement on A Clash of Kings but, like the previous book, the writing sometimes grated and it lacks a defined plot. Of course, that is the nature of all epic fantasy series – the middle books aren’t intended to be cohesive stand-alone stories, they’re about moving the pieces around, getting the characters in position for the next book and setting up new plot threads – and it’s something this book does exceptionally well, so it probably comes as close to a five star book as this series is ever going to give me.
It might lack the narrative drive which the first book had in the form of Ned’s quest to uncover Jon Arryn’s murder, the characters might be scattered all over Westeros and beyond, but Martin does an excellent job of moving all the competing storylines forward and ending the book with every point of view character in a really interesting place. This is the book that is often lauded by fans as the ‘best of the series’, and I can see why. A lot happens in this book – like seriously, a lot. And not just small things, huge, game changing ‘woaaaah!’ things.
The writing, I’m not going to lie, is still not great. The prologue, in fact, was an abysmal mess of terrible fantasy writing and poorly sketched stereotypical cartoonish villains (there’s the ugly cunning one and the big childish one who takes orders but is really a gentle puppydog deep down). But once I got past that and onto the characters I cared about from previous books it improved vastly. The tables have turned since A Clash of Kings and fewer point of view characters are in positions of power and luxury, so the ridiculous lists of foods, jewels, and clothing have been mercifully reduced. They still appear on occasion, but it’s not every single Tyrion chapter anymore. There’s still the odd phrase Martin is inordinately in love with such as ‘in his cups’ and Ygrette’s catchphrase of ‘you know nothing, Jon Snow’ but, for the most part, the writing, like the plot, is way less waffly and repetitive and much better than it was in the previous book.
But onto storyline and characters! A Storm of Swords adds in two new point of view characters, both of whom I really enjoyed: Jaime Lannister and Samwell Tarly. Jaime was one of the main villains in the first book, so it’s great to see things from his side and, for a would-be child murderer, he’s a very fun character. Not necessarily sympathetic, at least not in everything, but he’s amusingly arrogant and provides a much-needed voice of reason against those characters who keep calling him ‘Kingslayer’ as if killing a crazy monarch who routinely burnt people to death for fun was a bad thing. And Sam provides another voice on the wall and amongst the black brothers while Jon’s away.
Of the returning characters Jon and Tyrion probably get the most interesting storylines with Jon off adventuring beyond the wall, playing the turncoat to the Wildlings and trying to inform his brothers of their invasion plan, while Tyrion remains the main eyes and ears for the constant backstabbing politics in King’s landing. Now I’m probably almost alone in this but I don’t like Tyrion very much. His chapters are definitely among the most interesting but that’s because of his position, not because I find him very interesting himself. He’s neither as clever or funny as either he or the people who love him seem to think and he always, always, seems to repeat things repetitively in ways that gradually get me more irritated. Last book it was ‘I’m in love with a whore’ or variations of, which got repeated ad nauseam. This book it’s ‘my sister tried to kill me’/’my sister is evil’, after about the fifth time it’s mentioned in his introductory chapter I kinda got the point. Dany is also finally doing something interesting! Unfortunately she’s still waaaaay oversexualised, but she is doing something – which is a major improvement on the last book.
For me though, it’s all about the Stark kids. Arya is still bumbling around running into one nasty character after another, creating a kill-list that’s a mile long and providing the ‘what normal people make of all the civil war’ perspective. But even there there’s also some real plot movement for her in this book, even if it isn’t in the way she wanted. She’s one of my absolute favourite characters and the ending left me intrigued as to what will happen to her next. Sansa continues to grow on me as well. Like many people, I have to confess to finding her irritating in the first book, but with every shit thing that happens to her and the way she deals with it I end up liking her more and more. She’s way up in my favourites at this stage and I really hope things get better for her soon. Poor Bran was probably the most shortchanged of all the characters, getting the shortest and most simple storyline in this book – but the promise of a very important part to play in later books, so I guess it balances out.
And to be honest, I can’t really say much more about the plot and events without worrying about spoilers, so I won’t. I was spoiled myself on one of the big plot points and it ended up being a huge anticlimax, which was disappointing, but there were many, many other scenes which took me completely by surprise and I certainly wouldn’t want to spoil for others. What I will say is that it’s miles better than A Clash of Kings (which I enjoyed), the overarching plot progresses a hell of a lot and questions from the first book (who tried to assassinate Bran? What happened to Jon Arryn? Where did the guy who was meant to kill Gregor Clegane go?) are finally answered. It also contains some of the most memorable scenes in the whole series so far, and all the characters end the story in a very different place from where they started out. The ending was just…brilliant.