Cannonball Read IV: A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire is a very engaging and engrossing experience. Each book builds on the last one and creates a story with a mythology, culture and lexicon so well-defined that it's actually exciting. It seems daunting at first; who can remember the names for a hundred different characters, but once you hit your stride, you'll never want to turn back. The books are very plot-sensitive, so if you're still reading A Game of Thrones or A Clash of Kings, just skip everything below this paragraph. A Storm of Swords is so explosive and delicious, I would hate to ruin anything for you. [Hear that, folks? Spoiler Alert! -- mswas]
The story picks up shortly after the events of Clash. Stannis' army was repelled from King's Landing by the joint forces of Tywin and the Tyrells and the War of Five Kings seems to be simmering down (at least momentarily). The Kings are all still in play, but they're generally minding their own business. However, things are far from peaceful. Westeros is a powder-keg and no one is happy. Tyrion wakes from his injuries and finds the court taken over by his father Lord Tywin, the new Hand of the King. Sansa is still kept prisoner and holds desperately to the dubious plans of Ser Dontos. Robb's gone and married the daughter of a minor house (instead of a Frey girl like he promised) so now the Freys are angry. Arya just wants to see her mother, but is more or less captive of Dondarion's Brotherhood. Jon's infiltrating the Wildlings and feeling conflicted about it and Bran is traveling to the wall and the mysterious Three-Eyed Crow with Jojen and Meera.
That's a lot going on, I know, but as always, Martin deftly juggles the various plot-lines so smoothly that you scarcely notice how much the book jumps around. Out of all the books so far, Storm has the most seamless weaving of plot-threads with uses of dramatic irony and it establishes a terrific feeling of tension. It's similar to riding a roller-coaster; you feel yourself being pulled up and up and up and once you drop down, things go insane. There were times when I was reading that my jaw literally dropped. I usually pride myself on having a general sense of where a story is going, but this book genuinely shocked me.
As for the plot-lines, they're generally stellar across the board. Jaime's was among my favorites what with his extremely satisfying character arc. And yes, his incestuous love for Cersei is gross, but I was touched by how truly he cares for her. Dany's chapters were somewhat repetitive, but it cemented her transformation from the meek, abused creature she was in Game into the epic, dragon-fire wielding badass that she becomes. Jon's plot-line, as it has been in the past books, was the weak link for me. There was some improvement, sure, but his stories never thrill me because I know he'll inevitably succeed. It was interesting to see him twist in the wind with his loyalties to the Wall and his love for Ygritte, but it all just seemed like a part of the bigger Jon Snow Can't Lose story-line. He suffers more in this book if only because it makes stabs at giving him genuine flaws (aside from being humble and too good at his job), but I get the feeling he's Martin's favorite character and will therefore always come out on top. I hope this isn't the case in the later books because that disappoints me. Martin has made no bones about the fact that anyone can fall and even the heroes of the story have glaring flaws.
All that aside, I can't wait to read the next book. Storm had so many big upsets that I'm so excited to see where it goes and to take a dive back into this gorgeously well-developed world.
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