A Storm of Swords: Might be the best in the series

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review George R.R. Marting A Storm of SwordsA Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

When George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords begins, the War of the Five Kings has just ended, and it looks like the Lannisters have won the realm. They control King’s Landing, Westeros’ capital city, as well as the fifteen-year-old King Joffrey. Stannis Baratheon is in retreat, and their remaining foes, the Starks and the Greyjoys, have turned on each other rather than allying against a common enemy. Basically, the bad guys have won, but A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE isn’t over.

Martin highlights that there are still perfectly legitimate threats to the realm, especially the wildlings, the Others, and the giants that are invading from beyond the Wall. Jon Snow is charged with infiltrating the wildling army, an excuse that Martin uses to show off how cool it would be to live in a land that is in perpetual winter. Yes, the undead attack at night, but there are also giants riding mammoths.

Although A Game of Thrones felt like a comparatively “realistic” fantasy, Martin now displays a great gift for writing about the supernatural. In A Storm of Swords, the best example may be Lord Beric Dondarrion, who is repeatedly brought back to life, but never healed. Martin spares no expense describing Beric’s corpse: “One of his eyes was gone, Arya saw, the flesh about the socket was scarred and puckered, and he had a dark black ring all about his neck.” There’s more, and it’s Martin’s continued dedication to serving up the horrors of heroism alongside the benefits of villainy that makes these novels such an unusual brand of fantasy. After all, what would A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE be if Ned Stark had been rescued in A Game of Thrones?

Fortunately or not, Ned wasn’t rescued. However, Martin does a fine job of bringing Ned into A Storm of Swords. Martin adds new dimensions to Ned’s character through a fable that Meera and Jojen tell Bran that hints at Ned’s first love, through Arstan’s descriptions of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and the rebellion against his father, and through Stannis’ constant reminder that “Ned Stark was no friend of mine.” Up to this point, Ned has been one of the most heroic lords of the realm. To some extent, he’s almost as much a father figure to the reader as he is to his children, and it’s disconcerting (but fascinating) to discover these new dimensions of Ned Stark: he was hated; he was loved; he was a great swordsman and a talented general. He left all that behind to go home to Winterfell, rule responsibly, and raise a family.

Many of the greatest moments in A Storm of Swords turn on new twists to characters we thought we could safely revile. There’s a dark humor at work as Martin describes Arya’s attempts to kill the Hound every night while they travel together, but before we know, we watch as the two of them are forced to fight side-by-side in one of the best bar (inn) fights fantasy has to offer. Still, the biggest twist must surely be Jaime Lannister, who is a new viewpoint character in A Storm of Swords. Up to this point, Jaime has seemed like a gold plated scumbag. However, as he begins to risk his life to save Brienne of Tarth, it’s tough not to warm to him. Perhaps he’s more heroic than we thought, though I feel compelled to remind readers that he tossed a child out of a tower window in the first novel and still feels no remorse.

“Meanwhile” would be a useful word to describe the rest of the novel, though only because these storylines are so detached from one another. Daenerys is fighting slavers across the Narrow Sea as she learns what it means to be a queen. Ser Davos is learning to read. Sam is learning what it means to be brave. Sansa is (still) learning that life is not a song. Robb is learning to rule. Bran is learning to open his third eye. There is a lot happening in A Storm of Swords, and the absence of a transparently unified plot could have led to a terribly confused novel.

Fortunately, everything that happens in A Storm of Swords is succinct and thrilling, and Martin weaves just enough threads between these characters to assure his audience that all of this is heading to a common fate for all of Westeros. So although there is no common storyline uniting these characters yet, A Storm of Swords is still a winner. In fact, it might even prove to be the best entry in the series.

~Ryan Skardal

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review George R.R. Marting A Storm of SwordsThe Good, The Bad, & the Ugly. That cliché is the most accurate description of A SONG OF AND ICE AND FIRE. When I finished A Game of Thrones, I foolishly thought I had a clear view of who was the Good and who was the Bad. After A Clash of Kings I again grew bold enough to make that judgment call. Now I’ve finished A Storm of Swords, and Martin has shown me he’s the master and this pupil better not chose sides.

Its easy to tell who the Ugly are; freaks, dwarves, undead, the scarred, the drunken, and the craven, but whose side are they on? (Don’t think the handsome ones can stay out of those ranks either, not with the “Bloody Mummers” or “The Mountain Who Rides” roaming the countryside.)

This epic power struggle could just as well have happened in medieval times. (That is, if the dead could walk, the seasons last for years, and prehistoric mammals had survived.)

While the list of characters seems endless, each one is believable and intriguing, and in each chapter they take turns showing you this tale through their eyes. Trust no one, because the most noble can fall to shame and the most despicable can become selfless.

Most of all, be warned: George R.R. Martin has no mercy. At any given moment, anyone — and I do mean anyone — can die.

~Greg Hersom

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review George R.R. Marting A Storm of SwordsI’m almost out of breath after completing George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords. Each chapter is like its own short story with its own little cliffhanger. Martin’s characters are dramatic, melodramatic, genuine, realistic, and so bold and colorfully drawn that I find myself thinking about them in between readings. After each book I’ve needed to take a little breather, but find myself drawn back to the stories and the characters’ individual and interconnected dramas, desperate to find out what’s happened next, while enjoying the immersion in Martin’s world.

While some of Martin’s characters are clear ‘black hats,’ and some are ‘white’… there’s more ‘gray’ than anything else, which adds to the realism of the ever-changing qualities that the characters display. Some of the black hats start moving toward white, and some of the white drift towards the black. Like real life, few of Martin’s story lines have true endings. Even when a character is killed, the ramifications are often far reaching and impact Martin’s landscape across multiple books in the series.

One couldn’t really get their arms around A Storm of Swords without having the background of the previous two books. The author doesn’t pander to one looking for detailed background and reminders. He relies on the memories of the reader to connect the dots until Martin’s good and ready to connect them outright.

This is the first book in the series that really takes a full leap into fantasy, whereas the first two were more medieval historical novels set in an otherworldly location. Martin introduces some of the evil that’s been threatening from the north — Giants, Mammoths, Shadowcats, and the living dead. There’s a sprinkle of magic from Melisandre and her Lord of the Light. And oh yeah, and the three dragons, with their mother Daenerys, are threatening Westeros from the East.

What drives this series are the characters and storylines. And there are a lot of each. Martin chews through pages like a direwolf through a deer, but things are never dull, and the storylines never dry up. The final 300+ pages absolutely fly by. A Storm of Swords is as solid, deep and satisfying as the previous two.

~Jason Golomb

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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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JASON GOLOMB, who joined us in September 2015, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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  1. Spot-on review, Ryan. Its got me even more anxious for the Dance of Dragons release next week.

  2. I am going to have to find time to read Feast for Crows again, though I remember it being a bit of a let down after the first three.

  3. It was for me too. Still good, but not up to the level of the first three. Wertzone has some really good recaps if you run out of time.

  4. This book made me want to throw it against the wall in anger and disbelief. It made me root for the death of a child (and then despise myself), love a hated character, cry angry tears, and bite my nails because of all the suspense.

  5. Chris /

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