Title: A Storm of Swords (2000)
published as Part 1: Steel and Snow, Part 2: Blood and Gold
Author: George R.R. Martin
Read: Part 1: 18th July – 17th August | Part 2: 21st August – 29th August
Rating: Part 1: 3.5 out of 5 stars | Part 2: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The third book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, A Storm of Swords takes the feuding kings and lords of Westeros into a territory fondly know as ‘shit meets fan’ and leaves the series in grittier and darker places than ever before. All the political manoeuvring and scheming to this point, and throughout the course of this book, tips the narrative over a precipice from which it can never return, not to mention many of its principle characters.
” ‘Woman?’ She chuckled. ‘Is that meant to insult me? I would return the slap, if I took you for a man.’ “
Opening in the aftermath of the Battle of Blackwater Bay, A Storm of Swords sees a retreating Stannis Baratheon’s plans pitted against the “rightful” claim of his nephew, King Joffrey, to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. The Young Wolf, Robb Stark, proclaimed King of the North, continues to rule over territory through a mixture of wars and alliances whose cracks truly begin to splinter and show. Meanwhile, on the edges of the picture, exiled Daenerys Targaryen makes her way across the Dothraki Sea accompanied by the remaining paltry excuse for a khalasar and her three growing dragons, heading for Slaver’s Bay and its army of slave soldiers in the hope of gathering more men behind her. And the fringe threat of the barbaric wilding army also appears, roaring, on the horizon of the Seven Kingdoms, promising terror and blood.
“All these kings would do a deal better if they would put down their swords and listen to their mothers.”
Without spoiling the plot, all I have to say is A Storm of Swords contains the colourfully named Red Wedding and Purple Wedding – anyone who knows a little of the TV show, or just accidentally saw spoilers on Twitter (like me), probably grasps the gravity of those events. And it has been nice to finally get to the pay-off of those big ticket items. Meanwhile, across the Wall, the Wildings and the Others finally make proper appearances, the former helping to flesh out a very interesting story arc for a certain Night’s Watch member. It’s good to see these shadowy threats made real, walking and talking and all the other wonderfully despicable things. To be honest, looking at all the questionable lords fighting for control of the North, I’m kind of on the Wildings’ side in this battle.
“When you know what a man wants, you know who he is, and how to move him.”
I won’t lie – I was very confused by the amount of characters, and the House lists in the back of the book don’t do much to resolve the confusion. Not only do we have a host of lords and ladies, we have bannermen and squires and ladies maids and all the people ever in every House’s retinue. The Freys in particular breed like rabbits, which mean you not only have one Walder Frey but multiple little Walders and Waldas – yes, really, there is a small pool of possible first names in The Twins it seems. And as more and more bastards are added to the mix, it’s hard to keep up. This book was the point at which I realised the solution to this age-old problem – just let it go, don’t try to keep every single person’s genealogy and friends and enemies at the forefront of your mind when reading, just trust that it will all fit together without you needing to actively do that.
“Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died.”
However, the alternating chapter point-of-view structure really comes into its own, in the most frustrating way, for we are purposely denied the POV of the focus of the action. For example, we never see Robb Stark’s thoughts and feelings but, rather, we see him through his mother’s eyes via Catelyn Stark’s POV. We are denied Stannis Baratheon’s POV but we see him through Davos Seaworth’s. We are denied intimate knowledge of what the hell Cersei Lannister is thinking, but we are treated to her younger brother’s witty take on the chaos of King’s Landing. Most frustratingly for me personally was that one of the most interesting newly introduced characters in A Storm of Swords, Brienne of Tarth, is seen mostly through the eyes of the aforementioned Stark lady and Jaime Lannister – I’m hopeful that this will change in the next book, since we seem to be getting some interesting character development, shall we say, from otherwise allegedly despicable individuals.
“I’ve lost a hand, a father, a son, a sister, and a lover, and soon enough I will lose a brother. And yet they keep telling me House Lannister won this war.”
Which is to say that A Storm of Swords seems to mark a turning point in which I started to really become invested in characters, some of which surprised me. The slight slog of the first volume is compensated for in the damn good pay-off that is volume two. Published as Steel and Snow and Blood and Gold respectively, I think those are apt names for the two parts of this novel as part one follows Jon Snow’s ventures beyond the Wall and part two seems to focus more on the shit storm that is fight for political control of King’s Landing whilst the North is meanwhile steadily crumbling. And I, for one, am thrilled to see the far-reaching threads of everyone’s story lines start to intertwine in unexpected and dramatic ways that, I’m sure, will get even more twisted and tangled as the series progresses.
“The greatest fools are ofttimes more clever than the men who laugh at them.”