Friday, August 8, 2014

A STORM OF SWORDS


Review of A STORM OF SWORDS by GEORGE R.R. MARTIN
(third in the A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series)

Though I admire this series, my interest waxed and waned throughout this 1,000+ page installment. What held back my full-hearted investment: sometimes I find the story’s scope too large, I often wish for more insight into characters’ motivations, and, last, I’m restless for more magic in this fantasy epic. It feels ludicrous to say of a novel with so many characters and overlapping plot threads but sometimes the story felt same old same old. However, let me clarify that for most of the book I couldn’t flip or return to the pages fast enough.

Before my praise, let me elaborate a little on my above claims. As for the first, I’m certainly far from the only person to accuse A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE of an overcrowded cast. A STORM OF SWORDS even has a disclaimer at the start that, since there are so many viewpoints, some of the events in this novel overlap with those of the previous book. For that matter, the cast of characters listed at the back could practically be its own novel; I’m not convinced I recognize more than a tenth of the names! As for my “same old same old” comment, I’ve always been an admirer of stories that focus so closely on one or a few individuals that they swell with universal truths. Sometimes this series feels like it loses that connection by resisting any kind of settled focus.

As for my second claim - unclear character motivations - I’m not someone who cares about vivid description of a gruesome murder. Instead I want to know why the culprit committed the murder, how they feel about their crime afterwards, and how the victim’s loved ones react to the loss. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE has plenty of gruesome murders but little of the close character connection that I prefer. Again, this criticism can’t be applied to the entire book, but my interest waned the most whenever I suspected the author might not know any more about why his characters do what they do than the reader.  

My third and final complaint has to do with the scarce amount of fantasy elements. This is the third book and it still feels like fantasy readers are merely being teased and taunted with prophecies of magic to come...but those developments consistently find themselves pushed off until a future book. I’m probably more impatient for Daenerys’ dragons to be full-grown than she is!

A STORM OF SWORDS introduces new perspectives previously hidden to the reader, such as Jaime Lannister. It's definitely fun experiencing the story from a “villain’s” outlook and probably a necessary development if Martin keeps killing off viewpoint characters!

A strength by some opinions and a distraction by others, this series certainly boasts plenty of atmosphere: clothes, titles, family history, political history, architecture, food. A great part of what immerses readers so much in these stories is how Martin appears to have imagined every detail. I sway back and forth on whether I count all this as a strength or weakness. Most of the time, strength, but sometimes I do find myself skimming over meal descriptions, the layout of a room, or other small additions that add to the world but not the story.

It’s incredible how such a huge book can actually feel surprisingly short. No doubt the shorter chapters contribute to this effect, but mostly I think it’s how little time actually passes. The story bounces from so many perspectives all taking place at once that you finish a book that looks like it covers centuries and realize it hasn’t even been a year.

The huge cast in this series might blur together now and again, but when you’re really invested you care so much about all these complicated, violent, and oftentimes tragic stories intertwining with each other in consistently surprising ways.

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