Saturday, 11 August 2012

Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree: A Storm of Swords

I've made mention before of that fateful April day that I met George R.R. Martin and had the hardcover copy of A Clash of Kings I bought that very evening signed. I won't say so much that I regret having that book signed, but...if I had known just how unbelievably EPIC A Storm of Swords was going to be, I would have bought a hardcover of that one too and had it signed.

Now I've been reading the paperbacks, so A Storm of Swords was really two epic books for me, subtitled Steel and Snow and Blood and Gold respectively. For the purposes of simplicity, I'm pooling my review together, so I'll be covering both books. Now as this is volume three in the Song of Ice and Fire, spoilers for A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings will likely follow. You have been forewarned.

As with every blog about the Song of Ice and Fire, I'll begin by taking stock and introducing the state of play as it stands at the beginning of the book.

A Storm of Swords slightly overlaps the end of A Clash of Kings, but here's what's happening - Ser Jaime Lannister, the "Kingslayer" and Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, has been released from captivity at Riverrun by Lady Catelyn Stark in the hopes that the Lannisters will release Lady Catelyn's daughters, Sansa (held pretty much captive at King's Landing) and Arya (last seen in the company of Lord Beric Dondarrion's raiders). His brother, the brilliant Tyrion Lannister, is recuperating from an impressive wound (a scar now runs across his face) gained during the battle outside King's Landing. He has been replaced as Hand of the King by his father, Lord Tywin Lannister, who is being hailed as saviour of the city after he arrived with a great host of southern lords, defeating Stannis Baratheon's army. But everyone forgets that it was Tyrion's plans that prevented the majority of Stannis' army, embarked with his fleet in Blackwater Bay, from landing and turning the tide of the battle.

Elsewhere, (i.e. in the North), Jon Snow has, under orders from ranger Qhorin Halfhand, gone over to the wildings and comes face-to-face with the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder. Bran and his companions, Hodor, Jojen and Meera Reed, leave the ashes of Winterfell behind to make for the Wall, where the three-eyed crow in Bran's dreams awaits.

Seaward now and Ser Davos Seaworth, loyal servant to Stannis Baratheon, is found alive and...not so much well, but definitely alive, following the Battle of the Blackwater. He returns to Dragonstone, intent of killing Melisandre, the Red Priestess who stands at Stannis' side, guiding his campaign. Before he can so much as flinch in her direction, he is arrested and placed in a cell. Further across the seas, Daenerys Targaryen has left Qarth after the Sorrowful Men (a guild of Qartheen assassins) attempt to kill her, journeying to Astapor to buy herself an army. A slave army...

So basically, that's where everyone stands. But over the course of the book...well, several of the characters are left distinctly less than standing.

A Storm of Swords is...good gods, it's a bloodbath. A cruel, twisted ingenious bloodbath. All through the reading of this book (/two books for me), I was in contact with Thief who was urging me on, continually ordering me to read faster and on the receiving end of some very astonished text messages when certain things happened. As much as I want to go into them chapter and verse, I don't wish to spoil too many things. So I'll perform my usual trick - babble about my favourite characters.

Ser Jaime Lannister. I never, ever thought, in the depths of A Game of Thrones, that I would come to like this smug son of a bitch. But in A Storm of Swords, Jaime becomes a perspective character and as a consequence of that, I came to a bizarre understanding of the man, how he lives eternally in the shadow of his label "Kingslayer". In his journey back to King's Landing, he is accompanied by Brienne of Tarth, who reminds him at every possible moment about the oath he swore and he broke it when he slew King Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King. In spite of the fact that it was probably one of the best things he's ever done, for reasons he elaborates. But it's this torment he seems to feel, the burden of being the Kingslayer that makes Ser Jaime Lannister, for me, a compelling character. He may not be the best Lannister, but...gods I can't believe I'm saying this, but he's all right.

The best Lannister, of course, is Tyrion. The Imp. His size may be small, but his wit and brilliance are great. If only someone would actually recognise that and stop putting him down so much. Removed as Hand of the King by the arrival of his father (who was actually named Hand of the King, but sent Tyrion to act in his stead while he waged war on Robb Stark), he is named Master of Coin as Lord Petyr Baelish ("Littlefinger") has been sent to the Vale to woo and seduce Lysa Arryn, to keep the Vale and all its forces "in the King's peace" and thus out of the war. Or deep in it, so long as they're on Joffrey's side. But it seems that no matter what job he has, Hand of the King, Master of Coin, Tyrion Lannister is hated and misunderstood. And has a big mouth that gets him into A LOT of trouble. But it's that big mouth and its witty quips that we love so much.

Moving away from the Lannisters, it's time to take a moment to talk about some of the Starks. First off, Robb Stark. Never a perspective character, but man do I want this guy to win. Through Lady Catelyn's eyes, we see that Robb shares his father's sense of honour and the burden of leadership - especially when he arrives back at Riverrun...with a new wife in tow. Who is not of House Frey, despite Robb being betrothed to a Frey daughter of his choosing. Now that causes some friction, but allows Robb to forgive his mother for freeing the Kingslayer.

Now when I talk about the Starks, I can't help but talk about Arya. She's the stubborn little warrior girl and my favourite of all the Starks. And the poor girl never seems to catch a break. So far, every time she's come even a tiny bit close to getting what she wants, it's all snatched from under her. But credit to this little firecracker, she keeps going and going. And oh my, where she's going...I can't wait to see what happens!

And finally, Jon Snow. Gone over to the wildings. I must admit, I feel Jon Snow's initial epicness in A Game of Thrones has diminished somewhat, but I still like him. But mostly because, if not for his perspective, we wouldn't have a brilliant chapter where we finally get to meet the fabled Mance Rayder. And believe me, Mance Rayder does not disappoint for a second.

When I babbled about A Clash of Kings, I mentioned a theory about the Red Priests/Red Priestesses being behind a conspiracy. I've seen re-thought that theory and it's been a tiny bit proven wrong. Which is a shame, because I like a good conspiracy, but alas there isn't one that I know of. But I wouldn't bet on anything at this point. Especially in A Storm of Swords.

So I mentioned at the beginning it's a bloodbath. Oh gods, such a bloodbath. George R.R. Martin is an evil genius. Not many books will have me screaming at them, jumping for joy or giggling maniacally, but A Storm of Swords (especially book two, Blood and Gold) had me doing that all the time. So far, I think this is my favourite instalment of the Song of Ice and Fire. But I'm only two chapters into A Feast for Crows so far, I'll let you know how that goes in a week or two. Depending how fast I read. I expect I will have Thief standing with her bow and arrow to make sure I read faster.

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