A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin
Published by Bantam (USA), Voyager (UK)
Readily available in paperback RRP £8.99
Possible Spoilers Within This Post
The War of the Five Kings still rages but, after the Battle of the Blackwater, the balance of power now rests firmly with King Joffrey, Stannis Baratheon has seen his fleet destroyed and has retreated to Dragonstone. With his new allies, House Tyrell, Joffrey now commands a vast army and plans are afoot to press the attack northward against Robb Stark’s diminishing, but still victorious in the field, army. But Robb’s skill on the battlefield is not mirrored in his political dealings and he makes a decision that will cost him dear.
Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow has infiltrated the Wildlings and is learning their plans. He is also finding out they are not the uncivilized savages many are led to believe, and there is a strong honor code active. As the Wildlings head toward the Wall, and confrontation with the Nights Watch, Jon finds himself at odds as to what is the right thing to do.
Beyond the sea, Daenerys Targaryen seeks to hire an army in her continuing quest to reclaim the Iron Throne, and in so doing embarks on a mission to bring justice to the broken cities around Slavers Bay. She also discovers treachery in those closest to her and must decide who to trust.
This book starts a little before the end of A Clash of Kings and so events that, for the reader, have already happened are referenced as just occurring. There are now only four Kings vying for the Iron Throne but the pressure has not lessened for any of those involved. The story of the various characters begins to become fragmented, the distances involved sometimes hamper the flow for me as you find yourself re-visiting events that had happened several chapters before. This is not a big problem, Martin manages to keep the reader up to speed very well and the “previously” talky bits don’t slow the action up.
Of all the books this is by far the darkest, later events bring an end to several primary characters and their stories, but it is the manner of their passing that is the most shocking. Along the way we are treated to the Wildlings assault on the Wall, a bloody duel involving The Mountain That Rides and the deaths of three more Kings. In a way this is the final book in Martin’s originally planned trilogy, a lot of storylines are wrapped up and there is a sort of ending. But this is Westeros, and we’re talking about George RR Martin, nothing is that simple and nothing that clear cut.
As with previous books a lot of groundwork is laid for future books, also for the first time you get the POV as seen by one of the series bad guys, Jamie Lannister, as he gets his own chapters. This is a clever move by Martin because it not only opens up for all to see the plans, hopes and, sometimes, fears of Jamie, it also lets the reader see why he is who he is. For me it was an eye opener and afterwards I viewed him in a different light. It is also, I feel, the first step in understanding the Lannister’s as a whole, Tywin is given more depth, Cersei more meaning and you realize the love Jamie holds for his brother.
There are few misses, for me keeping the Jon and Bran storylines separate might be a mistake, but then perhaps them coming together is for a later book. With much of the main story of the first two books tidied up you do feel a line is drawn, and that you are allowed to move on.