Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords
George R. R. Martin

Before your eyes get any further in this review, Be Warned. There are probably spoilers in this review for events in A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. If you have not read those books and do not wish to be spoiled, Turn Back Now.

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King's Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world ...

But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others--a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords ...

Oh boy. Where to begin?

I suppose I'll start with Brienne of Tarth. If I am not mistaken, she was first introduced in A Clash of Kings as a part of Renly Baratheon's guard. She becomes one of the major players in this book when Catelyn Stark gives her the task of exchanging Jaime Lannister for Sansa and Arya. Brienne is a fantastic character. Because of her “unladylike” build and height and because men have found her less than appealing, she cast aside traditional female roles and adopted male roles as a sort of misfit knight. I like the gender play there. She holds onto her own female name and, at the same time, is very uncomfortable when anyone calls her by a female title. She wants to be treated like a lady of her station sometimes if she can have the same respect as other ladies and she wants to be treated as a man other times and fights for the same respect as other men. She carves out her own identity and holds herself to her own standards without compromise and I have great respect for her.

She also happens to be stuck with Jaime Lannister, which I would probably enjoy with any character but especially so with her because he is a pompous ass. It is fascinating to follow their journey because they develop this grudging respect and admiration through fighting with each other and becoming prisoners of others. It's fantastic.

Of course, we also have the unfortunate Robb Stark learning precisely why it is a bad idea to betray a Frey promise when he nullifies his betrothal and marries another young lady. And Arya escapes from where she was from, only to be passed along from one group to another as she tries to find her way to her family.

In Stannis' camp, the focus is on Davos, who managed to escape the flames at King's Landing to land in Stannis' dungeon. Melissandre's premonitions discovered Davos' hatred for her and plots against her, but her hold on Stannis weakens when Stannis makes it clear that he values Davos above his other knights.

King's Landing is in turmoil. Joffrey is betrothed to Maergery Tyrell and is wed to her, with interesting consequences. Sansa's betrothal to one Lannister is forced upon another when Tywin decides that she must marry Tyrion. Circumstances force Sansa to flee the castle with the help of Littlefinger and go into hiding, which in turn causes Tyrion to take the fall for her suspected hand in events. The Lannisters become even more splintered as patricide and paranoia shape their family.

In the North, things are getting much more complicated. Bran, Hodor, Meera, and Jojen leave the ruins of Winterfell and travel north as winter comes closer. The Watch party encamped at the Fist of the First Men are attacked by undead wights that cannot be killed. Jon Snow is forced to play turn coat among the free peoples that Mance Raynor has gathered.

And in the East, Daenerys has found her army. She purchases the whole of the Unsullied – the company of eunuch soldiers renowned all over the world for its members' obedience and prowess in battle. In a demonstration of power, she turned them on the slavers who made them and changed the landscape of the East.

Each of these books is somehow bigger than the last one with more anticipation and more intricately laid destinies for these characters. This series continues to be one of the greatest epics I have ever read.

Next: A Feast for Crows.

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