Book Review: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

Man, this book was a bit of an epic.

stormofswords

The third part of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series picks up with the war of five kings still in full swing.

In the North, Catelyn Stark has fallen out of favour for freeing Jaime Lannister from captivity in order to exchange for her daughters, something which has angered some of her son Robb’s men, and threatens his alliance. The situation is exacerbated when Robb breaks a promise to one of his allies, with dissent and cracks starting to form in his forces can Robb hold it together to face multiple foes.

Meanwhile, Robb’s youngest sister Arya is attempting to find her way home and must run the gauntlet and negotiate her passage through a countryside filled with rival factions, outlaws and bandits.

Robb’s other sister remains captive at King’s Landing, at the court of sadistic boy-king Joffrey, and dreams of escape while also trying to survive the cutthroat politics of court, and avoid the cruel attentions of Joffrey.

Also at King’s Landing, Joffrey’s uncle Tyrion Lannister is recovering from his injuries and must deal with the loss of his power as the king’s hand due to the arrival of his father Tywin. With his allies deserting him and shifting loyalties can Tyrion stay on top and outwit his sister, Joffrey’s mother.

Meanwhile, Tyrion’s brother Jaime tries to find his way back home, irked by his protector the female knight Brienne, who he can’t stand.

Another of Robb and Joffrey’s rivals, Stannis, the rightful heir to the throne, is under thrall to a mysterious sorceress and this worries his hand, Davos, an ex-smuggler raised to knighthood. Davos attempts to adjust to his new role, and discovers worrying messages from the North where the Night’s Watch are facing fresh threats from beyond their wall.

Robb’s bastard brother Jon is one of the watchmen and is stranded beyond the wall having been ordered to act as a spy within the ranks of the tribes. Can Jon achieve his mission and remain true to himself in the face of temptations, and how will his brothers welcome him back if they believe him to be a traitor.

Across the sea, exiled princess Daenerys Targaryen seeks to build her army so she can return to reclaim her kingdom, but must deal with shocking revelations of betrayal among her own men, and comes to understand the challenges of ruling and discoveries that her family history may not be as pure and virtuous as she has been led to behave.

As you can probably tell from the synopsis, it’s a sprawling epic following various characters as they all attempt to navigate a violent world of rivalries, intrigue and betrayals. Martin’s style of writing in the third person with various characters’ points of views being provided, and the focus shifts from chapter to chapter between 9 main characters, allowing the unfolding events to be viewed from different angles.

Each perspective character is written in a different way, with Martin reflecting their own bias and character in each, and so you find yourself warming to quite a few of these major characters, and the supporting players they meet along the way. Martin does such a great job of getting you invested, and shows a real flair for twisting the tale to leave the reader reeling and there are some gut wrenching outcomes for some of the main characters.

Despite the serious events unfolding and the big picture of a bitter and brutal civil war, Martin never loses sight of the human aspect, the characters are easy to relate to and he has a knack for salty, earthy dialogue which grounds the novel.

It’s an incredibly intriguing story and all the backstabbing and shifting allegiances really keep you gripped, and it’s this that is the book’s strength, although Martin also knows how to right a good fight scene, making it at times a bloody, wince inducing story of violence and vengeance. As the series progresses Martin introduces more and more fantasy elements into the world, but it never turns into a goofy giants and dragons story, because it’s clear that the real action is the motives and acts of the people in the world, and the creatures and magics are just the backdrop these characters play out their roles against.

The sheer scope of the novel is marvelous, with lots of thought going into it to craft a world filled with complex family trees, secrets and political machinations. Back  stories are fleshed out in remarkable detail, and even after around 900 pages I remained entirely gripped and had to fight the urge to just plough into volume four of the series.

Verdict: A fantastically entertaining and gripping epic which is consistently captivating and never lets up. Martin shows real skill in all aspects of the writer’s craft- characterization, plotting and description, creating a wonderfully realized world. A total gem of a book, and I’m recommending this series to everyone I know, even if some may struggle with some of the darker, more brutal aspects of the story. 9/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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