Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Storm of Swords

The best words to describe the 3rd volume of A Song of Ice and Fire; A Storm of Swords, are tour de force. It’s as close to a perfect instalment of an epic that I’ve ever read. It can’t stand alone as it is very obviously an instalment in something ongoing, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read in this or any other genre.

I knew I was in for something different when the first actual Point of View (PoV) chapter (I don’t regard the one off prologues as genuine PoV characters) was entitled Jaime. That refers to Jaime ‘The Kingslayer’ Lannister. In A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings to a lesser extent Jaime was a total black hat. One of his actions annoyed me so much in A Game of Thrones that I very nearly ripped the page out of the book in a fit of anger. If he was a PoV character then that meant the readers were going to see more layers to him, that in itself was a mouth watering prospect, whether or not he altered his character much. I regard what George Martin did with Jaime Lannister in ASoS as one of his greatest achievements as a writer. I hated the character with a passion in A Game of Thrones, but midway through A Storm of Swords I was cheering him on, as I suspect were many other readers. It takes rare talent to turn a character around like that, make it believable and inspire passion in the readers. Martin succeeded admirably on this front in A Storm of Swords and the redemption of Jaime Lannister.

It wasn’t just shiny new PoV characters like Jaime that were kicking goals for the author in A Storm of Swords, it was established fan favourites like Dany, Jon, Arya and Tyrion. They were all at the top of their game and right in the thick of the action. There were so many jaw dropping moments from this book. The infamous Red Wedding. The marriage of Sansa to Tyrion and that of Joffrey to Margaery Tyrell and the shocking, but satisfying conclusion to that particular union. The fight between Oberyn ‘The Red Viper’ Martell and Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane. Tyrion’s confrontation with his father. They just kept on coming.

Despite the size of the book (it had to be split into two volumes in mmpb in the UK editions) there’s hardly a dull moment. It’s not all beer and skittles though, although there isn’t anything I could term as a flat spot, the author’s increasing interest in minor details became more apparent, I think a more ruthless editor could have cut some things out without letting the narrative suffer, because most, if not all, of it seemed pertinent at the time readers let it slide.

If Jaime was an unqualified success as a PoV character then his 2nd new one; Samwell Tarly, was less so. The author likes Sam and I know he’s got his fans out there in readerland, but I find him a pretty colourless, two dimensional character. He’s a fat coward who occasionally gets lucky and barely manages to survive, once you’ve read that once it just continues to repeat itself. I also wasn’t particularly enamoured of Bran’s seemingly endless journey northward to discover exactly what we don’t know. However I can forgive even those less than thrilling sections for the inclusion of Meera Reed’s delightful story of Lord Whent’s Tourney at Harrenhal as a fairytale. That was masterful stuff and hints at the truth behind some accepted facts.

For a book of it’s size I read it in double quick time and was left breathless at the end. I’ve read it a number of times since and I always find something new to appreciate in it.

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