The third novel in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, A Storm of Swords continues where A Clash of Kings left off. The saga is set in the medieval world of Westeros, and following the death of King Robert Baratheon in the first novel, the Seven Kingdoms have been at war, with four kings declaring themselves the true king.
The main characters of the series are the Stark family. Robb Stark, the eldest son of Catelyn and Ned, has declared himself King in the North following the execution of his father by Joffrey, Robert’s heir. His brothers and sisters are scattered throughout the Seven Kingdoms, each in danger and fighting their own war. The narrators are the Stark family, including Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow, along with Daenerys (Dany) Targaryen, the last of the dynasty overthrown by Robert, who is raising an army over the sea to reclaim her throne; Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, brother to Robert’s queen, Cersei; Davos, a knight in the service of Stannis Baratheon, brother of Robert who has declared himself his brother’s true heir.
The first thing to note about A Storm of Swords is that it is a long book. It is so long that it is available in two parts. The previous two novels were hardly short, but A Storm of Swords takes the term “epic” and runs with it.
The story flows so seamlessly from A Clash of Kings, the preceeding novel, that it is hard to separate A Storm of Swords as another book. Events move on of course, and there is more excitement and heartache for the Stark family. In A Clash of Kings we are led to believe that family members have died, yet we learn that this is not the case – although other characters do not. You might hope that after that, the Stark family would have some respite from tragedy, what with the death of Ned in the first novel, but this is a saga about war in a medieval world, and so of course no one is safe. There was actually a point when I thought I might not want to continue if Martin kept killing off characters, but of course I did – I can’t expect novels to run exactly as I want them to, and this is not the type of novel where you are guaranteed a happy ending. Indeed, given the state of affairs in Westeros, happy endings seem likely to be thin on the ground.
One change that I noticed while reading A Storm of Swords was that I was no longer sure who the bad guys were. There are the obvious ones, such as Cersei and Joffrey, but other characters start to become blurred round the edges. I had begun to grudgingly like Tyrion in A Clash of Kings, and this continued in A Storm of Swords. He may be a Lannister, and his main aim is furthering his family’s position, but he is also a good man, and cannot be wholly disliked. His brother Jaime has not been present for much of the action of the earlier novels, but was talked about often by other characters. In A Storm of Swords he becomes a leading character and narrator, and turns out to be not the ultimate bad guy he had seemed. Although I couldn’t yet say that I like him, it is not easy to hate him as I feel I should.
This ambiguity of characters “sides” as it were is testament to Martin’s skill as a writer. His world of Westeros is beautifully complete, his storytelling is superb, and his tale completely absorbing; now he starts playing with the readers emotions, making us question what we thought we knew and felt, and making us doubt our assumptions about characters.
I read A Storm of Swords in one installment, but you can choose to split it if you feel daunted by its size. It is another stunning addition to the saga of A Song of Ice and Fire, and fans won’t be disappointed. As always though, I would urge new readers to start at the beginning with A Game of Thrones – this is not a series you can miss anything of.
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