Book Review – A Storm of Swords by G.R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! ok – so finished the two parts to a Storm of Swords this past week, after an extended hiatus getting through some Warhammer rulebooks to speed learn that game. I had read the two previous books in the series right before this one, and no matter how riveting a text is, when you need a break, you need a break! I had stopped about halfway through the novel and let it lie fallow for about a month before picking it up again and loving it to the last page.
A Storm of Swords picks up where a Clash of Kings concluded, and despite the apparent Lannister triumphs, they are the family that are falling apart most. The North has crumbled, and Robb must choose between duty and heart in more ways than one. If there is one thing that ties this particular text together – it isn’t storming blades, but wedding bells. (Was that a spoiler?…Yes, but I’ll be good from now on!:)

As a stand-alone, Martin does his best to involve little introductions to the characters, but in fairness, he has created an entire universe of characters that at this stage is bursting at the seams. With a Clash of Kings, you could get by with little prior knowledge, but with Storm, you need some basis for the many ancillary characters that populate the text.
There was definitely more resolution in this novel. The characters are still pushed and pulled like game pieces across Westeros, and at this stage, it is slightly vexing that they don’t go where they really want, or meet who they intend as much as you’d like! It seems to be Martin’s premise to keep your attention through repetitious disappointment and dousing your hopes for the weakest characters…but what is really annoying is that is works. You are upset by the text at times, but not at the text. It remains well-written, full of verbose description and utterly enthralling. Martin knows his readers; and as such, his characters don’t change cheaply to prey on their emotions-it is always the circumstances that shift to hurt their ambitions. The fact that we care about his creations is testimony to his ability to spin a very good yarn – and this one is evolving nicely.

I would not be so crass as to list pros and cons to this great text, but if I were pushed into mentioning minor concerns it’d be how far Martin wants to extend his tale. Many people would slate me for suggesting he curtail the text – more is better crews et al, but I think a complete story is far more rewarding to a reader’s time, and much more reflective of an author’s skill. I find that sometimes the books are like a soap opera that twists for the sake of it…but fifty pages later I realise that Martin had that plan all along, and it only swings into view much later. I guess the length of the text, and the time it takes to tell the tale can wear a little after about four thousand pages or so! My only other beef (no pun intended) – is the descriptions of food Martin employs! If you haven’t noticed it by now, you’ll never miss it ever again – he extends the text by about two paragraphs a chapter with what his characters are sitting down to! These sections are expertly prepared, but few characters eat the same breakfast twice, no matter where in Westeros they live!
But if I am quick to spot these minor grievances, let me spill a little about the commendable aspects too. The story itself is amazing. The plot unfolds slowly, but deliberately. You care about the characters and follow them from chapter to chapter – creating new favourites as you go. I never thought that by the end of the text, I’d feel any different for Jaime Lannister – but Martin gives us a perspective that allows a fresh evaluation without changing the character at the core. The dialogue is tight, and more than anything – the sign of a great book – I was up until the wee hours more than once, promising myself that I’d stop reading after the next chapter. Martin knows how to present cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger!
I would thoroughly recommend this book to a prescribed fan, but for newcomers, I would caution jumping in here. At the very least watch the TV series to catch up (baring in mind they diverge slightly in the telling) – but also not to deny a new reader the enjoyment of the first two texts regardless. They are necessary reading at this point, but they are definitely a labour of love to plough through. I am interested to see the direction that Martin takes the next text – A Fest for Crows, as he has teed up a potential game-changer in the epilogue. I’m not sure how I feel about the last scene, so I will reserve judgement until I get started on Feast. Other than that – a fine novel and a great addition to the saga.

If any of you have read the works of G.R.R. Martin, I’d love to know what you think of them – this book or the great HBO series! Comments are more than welcome below!
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