|"You know nothing Jon Snow" (from Jon Snow Caps)|
The main action centers around the forces that are marshaling in the seven kingdoms of Westeros. War, the War of the Five Kings, came to the land in the last book, A Clash of Kings, when young and horrible King Joffrey Baratheon took the throne in King's Landing. In A Storm of Swords Joffrey's grandfather Tywin Lannister is the real power behind the throne and doesn't trust that the war is over. Young Robb Stark is still King in the North. Joffrey's uncle, Stannis Baratheon, backed by a powerful sorceress, Melisandre, suffered a major defeat, but his belief that he should rule is as strong as ever. Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands holds Winterfell and much of the North. In the East, Daenerys Targaryen is slowly making her way west, to reclaim Westeros for her family, which was deposed and annihilated by King Robert Baratheon and the Lannisters years ago.
|Tywin Lannister and his son Jaime don't see eye-to-eye on Jaime's future (from The Inner Bean)|
Life in Westeros and its surrounding lands is bloody and brutal and oh-so-entertaining to read. Martin's characters are well-drawn. In A Storm of Swords previously "bad" characters like Jaime Lannister, whose nickname, aptly earned, "Kingslayer," and Sandor Clegane, or "The Hound," as he is more commonly known, become sympathetic, as the world they live in is composed of myriad shades of grey. Favorite "good" characters like Tyrion Lannister, a clever dwarf who has never been appreciated by his family, and Arya Stark, a young girl who has had to see her father die and is shuttled from one group of brutes to another as a hostage to ransom, see the world in black and white, which may not be the wisest of courses. Arya has been through so much that it is easy to forget that she is still a child, and children do not see in shades of grey. Tyrion has been so abused by his family and everyone around him that he is soon unable to see anything but revenge. Still, it is troubling to see favorite characters head down dangerous paths.
|Sansa is just a kid, a pawn being buffeted and manipulated from one house to another (from gameofthronescaptures)|
Some of my favorite aspects of the book, while not giving away any major plot points, are still a bit SPOILERY, so be warned. New and interesting alliances are formed in A Storm of Swords, between characters, mostly unwillingly, but creating great tension and even at times, teamwork:
Jon Snow and the wildling girl Ygritte
Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth
Arya Stark and The Hound
Sansa Stark and Littlefinger
Sansa Stark and Tyrion (if she had given him a chance to even be just her friend or protector)
Tyrion Lannister and Oberyn Martell
There were also some vividly rendered scenes, featuring the Moon Door at the Eyrie, the Brotherhood Without Banners utilizing the power of R'hllor, Jon and his fellow Night's Watch brothers and their defense of the Wall, Bran Stark the warg (shapeshifter) seeing the world through his direwolf Summer.
Martin has drawn his characters and their countryside so well that like Sansa and Jon and Arya I wanted to go back to their childhood home of Winterfell, too. Hopefully they will get their chance. The passage where Sansa built a snow castle of Winterfell was beautiful and sad. Less convincing or sympathetic in this book was Daenerys Targaryen, who seems to be developing quite a bloodlust. But her wondering who to trust and her handling of advisors Arstan Whitebeard and Ser Jorah Mormont was realistic for a teenage Queen, a bit out of her league.
But the most impressive and shattering chapter in the book was the Red Wedding. According to an interview, Martin put off "writing the Red Wedding until the very last," which I was interested to read, because it was truly one of the most unforgettable, disturbing scenes I've ever read, in any book. It was also hold-your-breath-as-you're-reading-it brilliant, as if it occurred in slow motion. It occurs about halfway through the book, and haunts the rest of it, with the repercussions echoing.
A Storm of Swords is a wonderful read and Martin a wonderful storyteller. There are truly haunting passages that may give the reader nightmares, but they will still be glad they have continued on this journey. Everyone in the book is in motion, although not necessarily bound for the destination they originally intended. Will all roads lead to the Wall, or King's Landing, or an early death? As we learn from the wights, death is not necessarily the end. We can only wait and see, and thankfully, it's possible to grab the next book in the series, A Feast of Crows and get reading.