A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow
(A Song of Ice and Fire #3)
By George R.R Martin
Synopsis (via Goodreads): The surviving Stark
children are scattered--Robb leading revolt in the North, Arya learning
hard lessons as she treks through the war zone, Sansa an observer of
court intrigue, crippled Bran heading towards a sorcerous destiny, Jon
engaged in desperate defence of the icewall against barbarians and worse
things. Daenerys, pretender and ruler of dragons, is building an empire
elsewhere. And characters we have thought of as villains, notably Jaime
Kingslayer, are developing belated consciences ...
Attempting to review the third book in a series seems a little difficult and also kind of pointless. Perhaps if it were a series like Harry Potter which had self-contained story lines for each book it'd be easier, but since all the books run chronologically on from one another and follow the same characters (for the most part) in the same style I feel like I'm running out of things to add. So I guess I'll keep this short and discuss purely what this book has delivered (or not delivered) and skip the discussion of writing style or technique which I've discussed previously.
I really enjoyed this book and had no trouble running through the 500+ pages but on reflection nothing really happened. The actions of the previous two books are having some serious ramifications across the lands and the game of thrones is still in full throng, but there isn't too many new story lines or battles being set up. At least not yet. I suppose what this book really does is take you a little further into the characters heads. The Stark children are definitely the focus of this book, each of the children (sans Rickon) have chapters that follow their actions (although not Robb specifically, he's seen through Catelyn's chapters) and they are at the centre of most of the action and scandal in this book. This is the book where they all grow up a lot. The "death" of their brothers Rickon and Bran has shaken them all (except for Jon who hasn't yet heard the news) and seems to have made the damaging war all the more real for them. With the two sons out of the way, the lordship of Winterfell is up for claim so there are countless families, friend and foe, vying to marry one of the remaining Starks and produce the first child. Torn between family honour and obligation and the almost story-book idea of love, Rob and Sansa (the only Stark children whose whereabouts are known) are both forced to grow up quickly and witness the way life really is for adults in a warring kingdom.
Though much of the action and discussion surrounds the Starks there is a great deal of illumination of other characters in this book. Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, becomes far more complex and interesting, Jon's craven fat friend Samwell Tarly is forced into action beyond the wall and gains his own chapters to demonstrate it and other characters like Sandor Clegane, Ser Davos and Jorah Mormont all open up for the readers as they face struggles and battles both within and without. Because we're learning far more about the actions and motivations of the characters some of the mysteries that have lingered unsolved since book one are beginning to move in new directions or take firmer shape. People you once thought would definitely be responsible for heartless or wicked acts are suddenly shown with a conscience while wonderful and warm characters suddenly appear heartless and lacking of sympathy. Few answers are given, but the new information makes the questions far more interesting.
Religion also plays a bigger part in this book and I think Steel and Snow is setting the direction the books will soon take. Previously the religion of the book has been of the seven gods, also known as the southron gods. Far and wide these are the accepted gods and they are almost universally prayed to. The only other exception was the old gods of the north, nameless and countless these are the gods of the first men. These are gods only observed by northmen, however the godswoods (which are their church of sorts) are found in or near almost all the castles regardless of location. In the last book a third religion was introduced, the mighty R'hllor, represented by the red woman Melissandre who lived in Dragonstone with King Stannis. In the last book Stannis' new found religious beliefs were a cause of mockery by many and it was concerned it would discredit him amongst the people of the kingdom, however in this book we see that this religion has spread far further across the lands thanks to a red priest (Thoros) who is part of Beric Dondarrion's outlaws and perhaps isn't a silly 'false god'from outside the kingdoms.
While the prominence of this god is one reason for me thinking this will perhaps take charge in the coming books the other hint, for me at least, is the additional news from Melissandre that Rh'llor, the god of light has an enemy, an Other who must be vanquished and is far more important than the deathly game of thrones the men play. With the threat of the undead in the north, I think this is a storyline we'll be seeing a lot more of soon.
Any complaints? Well, not really except of Jon's girlfriend Ygritte. Ugh. She's annoying as hell. I actually like the storyline, the idea of Jon struggling against his sworn oath as a Black Brother and the blossoming feeling he has for Ygritte (which personally I think spring purely from the fact he's 15) and the further complication of her being a wildling and not 'from his world' is interesting and well-developed by Martin. What annoys me is this catch-phrase she constantly repeats "You know nothing Jon Snow. You know nothing." Every time Jon says anything she comes out with that line and it's doing my head in. This isn't even a complaint about her character being a know-it-all and ignorant to life outside of her wild world it's the actual phrase that I'm troubled by. It's annoying and repeated far too often. Seriously, can't you at least mix it up a little Mr Martin, perhaps have her say "Jon Snow, you have no understanding of anything which you've just proved several time over." Please? It's getting to the point that I dread Jon's chapters because I know it'll come up at least 3 or 4 times.
All in all this book adds depth and further intrigue to the story lines and characters set out in the first two books and I'm itching to start reading the next few. At only 500+ pages this is almost a short read by Martin and it breezed right by. My praise in my previous reviews stands again here. They're well written and encourage all-nighters in order to get through them. A great way to hit the half-way point I think!