“A Storm of Swords” is the third book in George R. R. Martin’s series “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Once again, as I mentioned in my review of the second book, this is a seamless continuation of the story; I will only mention some high points that touched me deeply.
The one lasting memory I am left with is the fast, almost frantic pace at which the drama unfolds. The book plunges into the story right away: in the prologue, three horns are blown, signifying the advent of the ‘Others’, and the ride begins!
It is fascinating how each and every chapter, without exception, has an event, which is sometimes dramatic, sometimes tragic, and sometimes horrific – and always, always moving the story rapidly forward. Dramatic decisions abound! Davos Seaworth’s decision about Melisandre’s fate, Catelyn Stark’s secret arrangement regarding Jaime Lannister, Tyrion Lannister’s covert meeting with Shae, Squab (whom we last knew as Arry) and her meeting with Harwin, the tragically horrific Red Wedding, and of course one of the most dramatic events of all, Tyrion Lannister’s trial! Dramatic people abound! Some make short appearances with long-lasting effects, such as Lady Olenna Redwyne, and some are there to stay, such as the Spartan-like race of The Unsullied! And some names are dropped, with just enough information to make us gasping for more, such as the mysterious Lady Ashara Dayne, and Wylla, who might be Jon Snow’s mother!
There is immense character development in this third book. A lot of people move from the background to a very prominent foreground. Catelyn Stark’s decision regarding her captive Jaime Lannister, was one example of a hitherto passive character taking some very positive actions. Samwell Tarly emerges from the shadow of cowardice that he has been under all his life, to single-handedly confront the wights and the Others (in, what was one of the most horrific scenes of this book!) The greatest transformation, perhaps, was Petyr Baelish and his emergence as a ‘player’. He tells Sansa Stark at one point, “In King’s Landing, there are two sorts of people. The players and the pieces.” Littlefinger is certainly no ‘piece’, as later events prove!
Since this whole series is about who eventually gets to sit on the Iron Throne, it was also interesting to see who deserves that seat. Based on this book, two people showcased leadership, guts and glory. One was Daenerys Targaryen: the events that Dany masterminded in Astapor and Yunkai were specifically glorious. Robb Stark also proved to be a brave (his unwavering heroism in leading successful battles) and just (his decision to name Jon Snow as his successor, despite his mother’s profound objection to the bastard) ruler… but then again, was Catelyn right in saying that giving in and kneeling could sometimes be better than leading a brave march to the throne?
Even more fascinating, however, was a complete role reversal in some characters. People, who have been established beyond a shred of doubt as heartless villains, suddenly have their past revealed or present uncovered to show a human touched by tragedy and muffled by dictates of duty. A Slayer of Kings may have earned that reputation only as a cover-up for political intrigue that went far deeper. The men of the Night’s Watch have been established as made up of ordinary men accused of being thieves or rapists but when it comes to doing their sworn duty of protecting the Wall, the sense of pride, honour and valour they exhibit is truly moving – the war led by Jon Snow against the wildlings was a shining example of this… Perhaps in the face of all the characters that change, all the heroes that reveal villainous undertones, and all the villains that show deep humane sides, one person alone shows no human trait, and that is Queen Cersei Lannister!
In a world where enemies are becoming allies (a member of the Night’s Watch and a Wildling!) and unlikely relationships are forming (a king slayer and a king’s guard!), marriage begins to play a huge role in the political structure of the kingdoms, and some unheard of nuptials are finalized, most notably that between a Beauty and a Beast!
Speaking of relationships, the theme of the special ‘bond’ between Brandon Stark and his direwolf Summer is developed to include more than animals and more than just Bran!
The other remarkable feature about this story was the ground it covers, literally. We travel along with the principal characters and see how much the world has turned! One of the more memorable such trips was along with Jon Snow, as his ploy (started in the previous book), now takes us beyond the Wall for the first time – and what a fascinating world! We meet Mance Ryder the King-Beyond-The-Wall, Ygritte the wildling spearwife, and Tormund Giantsbane who shows Jon the giants… “And Joramun blew the Horn of Winter, and woke giants from the earth”! And as we live with and learn about the Wildlings – a race made notorious for two books as one to be feared and avoided at all costs, in fact, one for whom the very Wall was set up – we realize how easily we can fall into a trap of, what can only be termed as, racism. When Ygritte (who is, by the way, my favourite Wildling character) talks of ‘takers’ and ‘kneelers’, it is perhaps a pointed remark on modern day land usurpers.
On an interesting side note, a reference is made to the title and theme of the series when Melisandre encourages Davos to see the truth that is all around in terror-filled dark nights and hope-filled bright days; the fact that there has always been a choice between only two, not a multitude of contenders. “…There is ice and there is fire. Hate and love… Evil and good… Death and life. Everywhere, opposites. Everywhere, the war… The war has been waged since time began, and before it is done, all men must choose where they will stand. On one side is R’hllor, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire… Against him stands the Great Other whose name may not be spoken, the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice…”
So far, this is my favourite book; I am truly moved by the intense and incessant drama that starts from the first page and ends with such fantastic events in rapid succession, as Tyrion Lannister’s encounter with his father, Jon Snow’s fate on the Wall, Petyr Baelish’s drama with Lady Lysa, and the final note on Catelyn Stark’s quest for revenge.
This storm of swords has left in its wake such a trail of death and destruction in its brutal rampage… so much sorrow… such irreparable damage… Valar Morghulis.