A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow by George RR Martin
Review by Floresiensis
Blood runs truer than oaths
The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud as winter approaches like an angry beast. In the northern wastes a horde of hungry, savage people steeped in the dark magic of the wilderness is poised to invade the Kingdom of the North where Robb Stark wears his new-forged crown. And Robb’s defences are ranged against the South, the land of the cunning and cruel Lannisters, who have his young sisters in their power. Throughout Westeros the war for the Iron Throne rages more fiercely than ever, but if the Wall is breached, no king will live to claim it.
The events in Storm of Swords overlap the ending of the second book, A Clash of Kings. I have to admit to not enjoying Clash of Kings overly, something I discovered placed me in a minority. Looking back I feel that I was a bit lazy when reading it, characters are thrown at you at a not inconsiderable rate of knots and you can either use the handy cast of characters at the beginning of the book to refresh your memory when you get lost or you can do what I did… carry on regardless hoping that everything will become clear in time. I was determined not to let this confusion happen again and to use the glossary, maps and personae dramatis to ensure that I knew what was going on, where it was going on and to whom it was happening. This effort was fully rewarded and I began to realise just why George RR Martin is held in such high esteem. In George RR Martin’s own words:
A Song of Ice and Fire is told through the eyes of characters who are sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles apart from one another. Some chapters cover a day, some only an hour; others might span a fortnight, a month, half a year. With such a structure, the narrative cannot be strictly sequential, sometimes important things are happening simultaneously, a thousand leagues apart. In the case of the volume now in hand, the reader should realize that the opening chapters of A Storm of Swords do not follow the closing chapters of A Clash of Kings so much as overlap them. I open with a look at some of the things that were happening on the Fist of the First Men, at Riverrun, Harrenhal, and on the Trident while the Battle of the Blackwater was being fought at King’s Landing, and during its aftermath…
Who were the main characters? Where to start? After meeting up again with the Black Watch in the prologue we re-enter the lives of Catelyn, Arya, Tyrion, Sansa, Davos, Bran, Jon and many more. Martin creates fantastic characters, rich in detail and emotion; quite how he manages to avoid making mistakes and contradictions is beyond me. The characters are many and varied but rich in detail and realistic. George RR Martin strength is the way in which the characters evolve, both in terms of maturity and emotionally. The story is, once again written in Martin’s inimitable third person narrative with each chapter expertly concentrating on an individual lead character; the chapters carry the characters’ name so you’re appetite is whetted before the chapter has begun. This all goes together to create a very fast-paced and extremely enjoyable story, the chapter structure really works. There is, of course, always the risk that the flow of the story may be lost by continually switching the perspective between so many characters but Martin manages to avoid this by overlapping the individual storylines very cleverly. The land of Westeros is described in excellent detail, much of it war-ravaged and damaged and the author paints a rather desolate picture of a land being destroyed by civil war. The feelings and attitudes of the main characters are described in depth and each takes on a life of their own. A Song of Ice and Fire is a wonderful story with the author drawing inspiration from the annals of history. In a “normal” fantasy books the reader always knows whose side they are on and there is normally a huge gulf between the good and evil characters. This is, however, not the case with George RR Martin’s work, during the first two books most will have sided with the Stark’s and rooted for them. A Storm of Swords shows the Stark’s in a less favourable light and as the book progresses it is difficult to differentiate them from the supposed villains, the Lannisters. I guess one way of putting it into words would be “they are all as bad as each other”. My favourite moments in the book were the chapters that contained the highest “fantasy” element. The Others beyond the Wall, Daenerys and her dragons, Melisandre and her dark magic, Beric Dondarrion and his apparent immortality. These are the parts of that lift the book from a tale of political intrigue and battles and into the wonderful realm of fantasy.
"The war,” she affirmed. “There are two, Onion Knight. Not seven, not one, not a hundred or a thousand. Two! Do you think I crossed half the world to put yet another vain king on yet another empty throne? The war has been waged since time began, and before it is done, all men must choose where they stand. On one side is R’hllor, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow. Against him stands the Great Other whose name may not be spoken, the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice, the God of Night and Terror. Ours is not a choice between Baratheon and Lannister, between Greyjoy and Stark. It is death we choose, or life. Darkness, or light.” She clasped the bars of his cell with her slender white hands. The great ruby at her throat seemed to pulse with its own radiance. “So tell me, Ser Davos Seaworth, and tell me truly – does your heart burn with the shining light of R’hllor? Or is it black and cold and full of worms?” She reached through the bars and laid three fingers upon his breast, as if to feel the truth of him through flesh and wool and leather.
“My heart,” Davos said slowly, “is full of doubts.”
This work is the author’s re-telling of the Wars of the Roses. It was a delight to read, the pace never lets up and the standard of storytelling is excellent throughout. The sheer number of characters demands your attention and concentration but if you are willing to spend the time familiarising yourself with the enormous cast then you will be richly rewarded. A Storm of Swords shows that all humans are capable of being kind yet cruel, intelligent yet foolish, brave yet cowardly. I think that only Robin Hobb and Steven Erikson can be held on the same level as George RR Martin among our present day fantasy authors. I would highly recommend A Storm of Swords and the other works of George RR Martin because they offer an extremely enjoyable experience. A Song of Ice and Fire is the history lesson you wished you had in school.
“This is one of those rare and effortless reads” Robin Hobb
George R. R. Martin is one of our very best writers, and this one of his very best books” Raymond E. Feist
Patick from Ireland
Fantastic book, he intertwines the stories of the characters flawlessly making for an exiting, and fascinating read.
Pique from UK
I read Clash of Kings quite quickly so as to have read it before the TV series based on the book began in April 2012. When I finished Clash of Kings I decided to start the first part of the Storm of Swords book (Steel and Snow) and read it at a leisurely rate. The book however pulled me in and I found myself not being able to wait to get back to it and so I finished it more quickly than I had Clash of Kings. The book seems more focussed than Clash of Kings, I agree with the reviewer that the problem with the second book of the series was that it tried to do too much, in too many places all at once. I found myself checking the character listing and map more times than I care to remember but nonetheless it was enjoyable and was a great set up for this, the third book. Storm of Swords (Steel and Snow) gets back on a more focussed track and really builds upon the story with the usual twists and turns but more in-depth development of the character's individual predicaments and internal monologues. NEXT!
Bruno from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The best epic book I've read. Simply flawless. Everyone who loves this genre must start reading the series just for this book. Don't blow it Martin.
Moran from USA
The absolute greatest in the series. A Storm of Swords is exciting and the development of the characters are well drawn. With a history as rich as Lord of The Rings, Martin has surely outdone himself on this section of the book. More duels, more characters, more action, more sex, more blood and the greatest intertwining of all the characters as of yet.
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