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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) » User review

Lots of Action and Intrigue and Resolutions Delayed

  • Jun 30, 2011
Rating:
+3
Having decided to read these books on the basis of the HBO series, I've now gotten well ahead of the TV version (which faithfully, allowing for some minor innovations, captures the first book, Game of Thrones). In this one, the third in the series, the story continues in all its intense detail as Lord Tywin Lannister returns to King's Landing to personally oversee the rule of his young grandson the godawful King Joffrey. Tywin replaces his dwarf son, Tyrion Lannister, as King's Hand with remarkable results. Tyrion, who was clever and ruthless enough to outwit the conspirators and his sister, Queen Cersei, by swift and decisive action and who engineered the brilliant defense of the capital against King Stannis Baratheon's attack, in the preceding volume is suddenly unmanned in the shadow of his cold and even more ruthless father. The Imp seems to shrivel into near helplessness as Tywin makes him into a pawn again, and all of the dwarf's insecurities in the face of an unloving sire come to the fore again. Indeed, Tyrion seems a very different man in Book Three and ends up suffering the consequences.

Meanwhile, Arya Stark struggles to make her way to safety at Riverrun where she believes her family is holed up after a series of indecisive victories on the battlefield against the Lannisters and after having lost their ancestral stronghold, Winterfell, in the north -- while Sansa, her elder sister, still being held against her will at King's Landing, finally seems to see through the fairy tale gloss her childish imagination has imposed on the vicious world into which she has fallen. Alas, it's still not enough to sufficiently sharpen her wits and enable her to make smart choices. Even with the realization of the lies all around her, she still can't tell the players without a scorecard which she is most emphatically denied. Perhaps there is no dumber female in all medieval fantasy than the Lady Sansa Stark.

At Riverrun her mother, the Lady Catelyn Stark, remains impetuous, stubborn and self-involved, characteristics which the proud and arrogant Jaime Lannister, captured and imprisoned by Catelyn's son, King Robb, will soon fall benefit to -- although he will not be entirely satisfied with the outcome. In the north, Jon Snow, King Robb's bastard brother, condemned to a lifetime of service in the Night's Watch, the brotherhood dedicated to protecting the realm from the evils of the Haunted Forest and worse things in the north, finds himself alone and imperilled on an expedition beyond the Wall to discover what the Wildlings are really up to. There he will come face to face with the terrible secret driving the Wildlings south, though he is soon forced to part with his white direwolf, Ghost, a creature whose soul he shares, while betraying his comrades of the Watch.

But there is scheming and evil abroad south of the Wall, too, as King Robb, having broken his sworn word to Lord Frey for love of a woman must find a means to make amends for the Freys hold the key to the north and recovery of Winterfell. But Lord Frey is an aged and sour man upon whose capacity to forgive (and recognize his lot as bound up with theirs) the Stark party must now rely. Sandor Clegane, the King's Hound and personal guard, has departed King Joffrey's service in disgust and is now abroad in the land while Lord Beric Dondarrion, who has been gifted with the ability to cheat death thanks to the Red Priest, an adept of the eastern god R'hollar, pursues his vengeance against the Lannisters in the countryside they've laid waste.

Oh and in the east the one time Dothraki Khaleesi, Danaerys Targaryen, last scion of House Targaryen, begins to move west again with her three dragons and shrunken khalasar in hopes of building a following substantial enough to enable her to reclaim the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros where House Lannister and House Stark (the latter now reeling from treachery) contend for the crown and where the old king's brother, Stannis Baratheon, still dreams of his own ascension to the Iron Throne aided by his Red Priestess, Melisandre, herself an adept of R'hollar.

This volume is a great hodgepodge of many stories, all quite interesting in themselves but none really resolving much as the great saga presses ever onward. There is one rather shocking turn of events in the second half when King Robb at last reaches Lord Frey's stronghold at the Twins, an event which seems to turn the whole story on its head, but matters remain unresolved, awaiting subsequent volumes. It's easy to see how this story can fill several seasons or more of television time and do it well because of the richness of the characterizations and the hard-to-predict plot twists. But there remains one serious drawback: The tale seems endless because of its many interwoven strands, none of which manage to play out in full in any single volume. For those who, like me, enjoy the satisfaction to be had on turning a novel's final page and closing the book, there will be a bit of disappointment here. But if you're after a tale with lots of things going on in many different places and interesting personalities with plenty of plot surprises in a richly imagined world, you might not miss the absence of closure this book leaves you with.

Stuart W. Mirsky
author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #230
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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Is George R.R. Martin for real? Can a fantasy epic actually getbetterwith each new installment? Fans of the genre have glumly come to expect go-nowhere sequels from other authors, so we're entitled to pinch ourselves over Martin's tightly crafted Song of Ice and Fire series. The reports are all true: this series is the real deal, and Martin deserves his crown as the rightful king of the epic.A Game of Thronesgot things off to a rock-solid start,A Clash of Kingsonly exceeded expectations, but it's theStorm of Swordshat trick that cements Martin's rep as the most praiseworthy fantasy author to come along since that other R.R.

Like the first two books, A Storm of Swords could coast on the fundamentals: deftly detailed characters, convincing voices and dialogue, a robust back-story, and a satisfyingly unpredictable plot. But it's Martin's consistently bold choices that set the series apart. Every character is fair game for the headman's axe (sometimes literally), and not only do the good guys regularly lose out to the bad guys, you're never exactly sure who you should be cheering for in the first place.

Storm is full of admirable intricacies. Events that you thought Martin was setting up solidly for the first two books are exposed as complex feints; the field quickly narrows after the Battle of the Blackwater and once again, anything goes. Robb tries desperately to hold the North together, Jon returns from the wildling lands with a torn heart, Bran continues his quest for the ...

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ISBN-10: 055357342X
ISBN-13: 978-1439149645
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, 4-for-3 Books
Publisher: Bantam

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