I finished reading A Storm of Swords at 12:05am this morning and thought that the intervening sleep would help me write a cogent and sensible review of the book, but as of this morning, I’m still left feeling rather breathless by everything that happened, especially towards the end. The book is so long, with so many character and events that it seems to be impossible to do a traditional review of it (at least to me) and so instead, I’ll leave you with some general impressions from the book. There may be some spoilers herein so proceed with caution.
- First, I loved it. It took me a long time to read it, not because the book was 1200 pages but because I had many other things going on at the same time. Nevertheless, the book engrossed me, hooked me and made it very hard to let go. The last four or five nights I went to bed early and then spent the next 3-4 hours reading simply because I couldn’t put the book down and had to find out what happened next.
- There were around a dozen view point characters in the book. Two in particular impressed me this time around. The first was Jaime Lannister. It was fascinating to get into the head of a character who we’ve seen only through other people’s eyes for the first two books. It was interesting to learn his motivations, and to learn that despite what we might have heard of him, he might not be such a bad guy after all. He had an impressive transformation in this book, making his escape with Brinne all the way back to King’s Landing. He lost something along the way, but he gained much more in my view. Without that long road back home, he might not have been able to stand up to his sister and father in defense of his brother the way he did.
- Daenerys also impressed me in this book. Despite being little more than a child, she has grown into a capable leader. What surprised me the most was that she could at times be brutal in the name of what she felt was righteousness. There was an interesting dynamic that built up between Dany and Ser Jorah and yet she resists for some reason. (I like Ser Jorah a lot; was hurt to find out what he’d done, and yet wanted to forgive him myself and wanted Dany to forgive him as well.
- The events at the Wall and beyond were among my favorite in the book. Sam, despite being a self-described “craven” really is no craven at all. Jon more than any of the Stark boys is so much like his father. Indeed it is for this reason that Stannis wants his help, despite “being no friend to your father.”
- The Red Wedding. Wow. I certainly didn’t see that coming, but knowing that Martin writes the books with everyone being fair game I should have suspected it. That was a difficult scene to experience. And when you’ve immersed yourselves with these characters long enough, you do experience the same emotions that the characters are experiencing as they live their lives. That is one of the things that makes the series remarkable. You feel like you are there and at times, it is painful. The Red Wedding was one of those times.
- It was balanced, to some extent, by Joffrey’s wedding. That scene was very well done because it had to be balanced by something that would make it more than just pleasing to the reader. There had to be some tension to go along with it, tension worth the weight of a king and I think Martin pulled it off fantastically. I was glad to see Joffrey go, but I worry for Sansa and Tyrion and what will ultimately happen to them.
- Sansa is my least favorite character so far, but it is through no fault of her own. She seems to be one of the only main characters who feels more like a pawn–and is okay with it. She is used by everyone and always tries to be polite about it, ladylike. She almost never takes action on her own and when she does, it is only because she is given little choice in the matter. However, after what Littlefinger did up in the Eyrie to save her, I wonder if she will start to make some proactive decision for her benefit going forward.
- Tyrion is still my favorite character. He is the conscience of the story, the only one who really seems to consider all sides, even if he favors one. I like his cocky attitude, how he can stand up to his sister, and how he can treat people (like Sansa) kindly. Of course, everything that’s happened to him led up to that encounter with Jaime in the dungeons that ultimately put him face to face with his father–and where he let his father know once and for all how he felt. For me that was the one and only moment in the book where an audience would have cried out cheering if it had been on the big screen. Events had built up to the point where the action that Tyrion took was inevitable, but it was, nonetheless, completely satisfying.
And a few more minor things:
- I had this idea for a while that the events that took place in this world were not on Earth. I’d mentioned after reading A Game of Thrones that I thought perhaps the story took place on a world with a highly elliptical orbit, thus explaining the short summers and long winters. But I am beginning to doubt some of that, at least from hints that have appeared. In one scene, early in the book, Jon is refers to “the seven wanderers sacred to the Faith.” The word “wanderer” implies planets, or objects that move across the sky in an unusual pattern. In ancient times, we had seven wanderers: the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. These seven became our days of the week. Indeed, one of the wanders Jon refers to is “the red wanderer” which would be Mars. In any event, this made the world seem less alien, and I have mixed feelings about that.
There is a passage during the wildlings assault on the Wall that stood out:
Pyp smacked his lips. “Think of all the soup it will make.” The jape was stillborn. Even Pyp sounded tired. He looks half dead, thought Jon, but so do we all. The King-beyond-the-Wall had so many men that he could throw fresh attackers at them every time, but the same handful of black brother had to meet every assault, and it had worn them ragged.
I couldn’t read that passage and not call to mind the Ardennes forest and the battle of Bastogne in World War II. Replace “King-beyond-the-Wall” with “German Army”; replace “black brothers” with “Easy Company” and it would have been a near perfect match.
And of course, the epilogue at the end of the book was stunning. It is hard to imagine what fans must have felt reading that and knowing that they probably had to wait a couple of years before they could find out what was happening. Fortunately, for me, I don’t have to wait that long. I already have A Feast for Crows on my iPad and can start reading as soon as tonight, if I manage to get a few other things done first.