#BeatTheBacklist Book Review: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Also by this author: A Feast for Crows
Series: A Song of Fire and Ice #3
Published by Bantam on March 4th 2003
Goodreads Synopsis: Here is the third volume in George R.R. Martin’s magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Together, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.
Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. And as opposing forces manoeuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords…
A giant review for a giant book! Wow, where to even start with this 1,100+ page beast of a book? First of all, I’m ecstatic that I finally finished it because A Storm of Swords has been sitting on my bookshelf begging me to read it for nearly two years. I kept looking at all of those pages and putting it back thinking of how many other books I could read in the time I knew it would take me to tackle that many pages. I’m so glad I finally gave in and decided to tackle it in 2017 because HOLY COW, what a book this is! Definitely my favorite of the series thus far!
It’s so hard to write reviews of books midway through a series because there’s just so much to gush, rant and rave about, but I don’t want to spoil anything for someone who is just starting the series. Here’s my attempt to lay out what I loved about A Storm of Swords as close to spoiler free as I can make it. If you’re truly worried about spoilers, just stop here knowing that the book is phenomenal and incredibly important in terms of character growth. Otherwise, keep reading…
As always, the level of intensity of this story is off the charts as each of our major players continue their quest for the Iron Throne. This installment of the series is filled with betrayals, epic action scenes, and more deaths than I can even begin to count, including one death that is sure to leave readers jumping for joy! There are also ill-fated weddings, a trial by combat, and much, much more. And don’t even get me started on the world building! Martin’s description of the Seven Kingdoms is, without a doubt, some of the best world building I’ve ever read. He is right up there with J. R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series.
In spite of all of that, however, what makes A Storm of Swords such a stand out for me are the characters and how Martin shapes them in this book. I keep telling myself not to get attached to any of these characters because George R.R. Martin has no qualms about killing any of them off. Even knowing no characters are off limits in this deadly ‘game of thrones’, Martin just creates such realistic, complex, and utterly flawed characters that you can’t help but become invested in them anyway. With this third book, I found myself growing even more attached than ever to Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth, and Jaime Lannister (Yeah, I know. I can’t believe Jaime is on my list either, haha!)
Arya. Even though she’s still basically just a little girl, Arya is tough as nails, able to hold her own against pretty much anyone out there, and has learned to handle a sword with the best of them. She has a long to-do list of names of people she plans to kill in revenge for what has been done to her family. I love that she periodically recites the list, just to make sure she doesn’t forget anyone, and my money’s on Arya to actually kill everyone she wants to kills and to somehow beat the odds and make it through to the end of the series alive. My favorite moment of this book is the unexpected moment when she actually teams up with her nemesis, the Hound, and they fight together and then end up traveling together.
Sansa. Sansa shows growth as well in the sense that she has become worldlier and less naïve, especially when it comes to King Joffrey and the Lannisters. Even though at one time she thought she would be married to him, she knows all of that is over now and that she is nothing to the Lannisters but a pawn in this game they’re all playing. In this book, she finds herself wed to another man, one who is probably the last person she would have chosen for herself and then ultimately on the run, accused of a crime she did not commit. As much as I like Sansa, I feel differently about her than I do Arya. Where I think Arya is a kick ass warrior in the making, with Sansa, I just always end up feeling pity for her because she seems to go from one bad situation to the next, with little or no reprieve. I fear that she may end up a casualty unless she continues to grow stronger and stand up for herself more.
Jon Snow. In a lot of ways, Jon Snow really comes into his own in this book. After spending much of the first two books lamenting about how he isn’t worthy of anything because he’s just the bastard son of Ned Stark, Jon rises to the occasion and does big things here. My favorite moments for him were when he took the lead in defending the Wall by first infiltrating the barbaric Wildlings to spy on them for the Night’s Watch and then later returning to the Wall and leading the Night’s Watch in their defense of it .
(Speaking of the Wall, there are some absolutely epic battle scenes here as forces converge on the Wall and try to break through. You’ve got the Others, who are basically the supernatural equivalents of the Walking Dead, and they are nearly unstoppable. Then you’ve also got Wildlings attacking, and Giants riding on mammoths barreling through. It was never entirely clear to me just how serious the Night Watchmen’s oath to defend the Wall was until this book and these scenes. What lies beyond the Wall is truly terrifying!)
Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion, or the Imp as he is known, has always been somewhat of a sentimental favorite of mine. Even though he’s a Lannister, who are probably the most hated out of all of the families in contention for the Iron Throne, Tyrion has always been somewhat of an outcast in his own family simply because he’s a dwarf. He tries to protect Sansa when he sees Joffrey and others abusing her, and overall he just seems to have a good heart. What really stood out for me in this book though is that Tyrion finally seems to have had enough of being shamed and name-called by his own family, by those people who should love and care for him even if everyone else is against him. And he snaps, revealing a much darker nature to his character than we have seen up until this point.
Daenerys. There’s not much to be said here other than, like Arya Stark, Daenerys, the exiled Queen, goes full on badass in this book. She’s coming for her throne and she has dragons(!) and an army, so everyone in her path had better watch out! This was particularly exciting to me because I thought her story was kind of lame in the second book. Martin more than makes up for it here though. Talk about strong female characters!
Brienne of Tarth. God, I love this character so much! I love her strength and her fierceness and that she defies gender stereotypes. Most of all though, I admire her loyalty. In a series that is so full of betrayal and deceit, Brienne is just so refreshing in that if she swears an oath, she is determined to keep that oath no matter the cost. In this installment, she has sworn to Catelyn Stark that she will take their prisoner, Jaime Lannister, and journey to King’s Landing to return him to his family in exchange for Catelyn’s daughters, whom they believe the Lannisters are holding. This journey doesn’t quite go according to plan and they face many unexpected obstacles, but Brienne never gives up. As Jaime says on numerous occasions, she is the most stubborn woman he has ever known. Brienne’s exchanges with Jaime are some of my favorites in the book. They are humorous at times, but ultimately Brienne earns Jaime’s respect. And Jaime showing Brienne the respect she deserves actually serves to humanize Jaime quite a bit as well (although it did bother me how much he focused on her looks and couldn’t stop thinking about how ugly he thought she was).
Jaime. Speaking of Jaime, how brilliant is George R.R. Martin that he actually turned one of my least favorite characters into one of my favorites this book? If you had told me after the first book when Jaime throws a young boy out of a window and cripples him, that he would go on to become a character that I liked, I would tell you that you had bumped your head, but yet here we are. Martin introduces Jaime’s point of view in this third book and as we see things from Jaime’s perspective, we suddenly understand that many of his actions along the way have not been as ruthless and unjustified as they initially seemed. What he did to the boy is still unforgivable, but he has a lot more honor and integrity than we were originally led to believe.
My only complaint about this book is the length. Yes, the world building is incredible, but Martin does spend a lot of time describing details that probably could have easily been left out (i.e. bodily functions and whatnot). I caught myself a few times along the way contemplating ways that the book could have been shortened without losing any important details.
Just because these books are such a time investment, it will probably be a while before I move on to the fourth book in the series. That said, A Song of Fire and Ice is still one of the most brilliant fantasy series I’ve ever read and one that I would recommend to any mature reader. I would not recommend it for younger readers because of the levels of graphic violence and sex.