A Storm of Swords (George R.R. Martin 2000)

Storm of Swords

The largest instalment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series so far , A Storm of Swords, was so big that the paperback edition was split into two parts. The book continues on where its predecessors left off. Westeros is still a mess, with the civil war still in swing. Robb Stark’s campaign is affected by a series of bad decisions by both Catelyn and Robb Stark. Meanwhile at King’s Landing, King Joffrey sets aside his engagement with Sansa Stark in favour of Margaery Tyrell, making Sansa’s position more precarious then ever after she is betrothed to Tyrion Lannister again. At the wall Jon Snow has to infiltrate the wildlings and learn their secrets, learning more about the Others in the process. Daenerys Targaryen meanwhile slowly starts to build up her army.

Again there is more to it than that but that is the bare bones. Like the previous book before it, this book expands on a lot of the plot points introduced in the other books. James Lannister is free but escorted by Brienne of Tarth back to King’s Landing. He is also one of the book’s new point of view characters. He is interesting primarily because this is the first time you see him from a sympathetic perspective. Yes, George R.R. Martin can make you feel sorry for a guy who commits incest and isn’t afraid to kill children. The best part is seeing his perspective on the death of the “Mad King”  Aerys Targaryen, which paints a picture of how necessary it was for him to kill the King, and makes his harsh reputation as the Kingslayer seem undeserved.

Jon Snow’s story arc improves a lot over the course of the novel. While it initially starts off slow, I did like the romance blooming between him and the wildling Ygritte and when his true loyalties come about and they break up I found myself heartbroken. Then there is a huge battle at the wall between Jon and the Wildlings which nicely caps off the wildling saga. The final battle marks the moment where Jon and the Night’s Watch stop being independant of Westeros’ politics after Stannis Baratheon arrives to drive off the wildling army. He was the only one of Westeros’ kings to answer the call for aid and their debt to him is sure to come back to bite them.

Daenerys Targaryen has pretty much the same story arc as the last books, only she makes a bit more headway in building up her army. I admit I liked the way she took control of the Unsullied and then had them turn on their former masters in one the best examples of loophole abuse I’ve seen in a long time. After that the plot dwindles down. She discovers Barristan Selmy amongst her own, while Jorah Mormont is outed as a traitor and is exiled and she effectively switches advisers. She then decides to rule in Meereen, setting up what I could already tell was going to be a long and drawn out story arc.

There are a few good twists which make the book worth reading, as well as a lot of major character deaths which set the tone for the rest of the series. The first is the death of King Joffrey. His death is not only satisfying, but also shakes up the events at King’s Landing, providing a shake up in the story arcs for both Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister. For Sansa this allows her to be taken away by Littlefinger,  who turns out to have had a part in Joffrey’s death. Littlefinger is revealed to have orchestrated the entire war in one of the most brilliant plot twists, and one which sets him up as one of the most dangerous players on Westeros’ stage. However it is Tyrion’s character arc which interested me more. After Joffrey’s death, Tyrion is accused of his murder. His interactions and relationships with his family are explored, in particular his antagonism towards his father. This cumulates in a dramatic breakdown during his trial which is one of the best angry rants I’ve ever read and one that points out the absurdity of everything that has transpired to that point. Then when it is all over, Jaime, who is back in King’s Landing, frees Tyrion from his cell. Tyrion kills Tywin while he is in his privy, further shaking up events at King’s Landing and further cementing his status as one of the most badass characters in the series.

Fanboying about Tyrion aside there is also the Red Wedding to consider. Robb Stark attends the wedding of his uncle Edmure Tully to Roslin Frey, one of Walder Frey’s daughters. There the Frey’s and the Boltons, the latter revealed to have turned traitor from Robb Stark’s cause, slaughter the entire wedding reception. The event ends in the death of both Robb and Catelyn Stark, killing off two major characters. The event leaves me with mixed impressions. I liked the fact that both Robb and Catelyn were killed off, particularly the former, since it reinforces a lot of the books’ themes but it seemed a bit unremarkable that they would die there and then. Neither Walder Frey or Roose Bolton seemed like a strong enough antagonist at that point to be considered “worthy” of killing two major characters like that. Reservations aside though, it fit the purpose of shaking up the plot and set up the Bolton’s as major players in the books to come so it wasn’t all bad.

Overall A Storm of Swords is another brilliant instalment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. All the character arcs seem to come to a head and a lot of them have one or two major shakes up which are sure to change the way they will progress in the books to come. A few characters like Bran and Arya Stark still don’t seem to do a whole lot, but have a few intersections with the book’s major storylines to make their roles not completely pointless. This is probably my favourite book in the series so far, and certainly one of the most dramatic. It’s the events of this book which make me rave about how good this series is, and it is the reason I would recommend it to so many fantasy fans.

SCORE: 4.5/5

IN A WORD: TWISTY

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