Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review: A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold
(A Song of Ice and Fire #3)
By George R.R Martin

Published: 2000

Synopsis:  The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud, and winter approaches like an angry beast. Beyond the Northern borders, wildlings leave their villages to gather in the ice and stone wasteland of the Frostfangs. From there, the renegade Brother Mance Rayder will lead them South towards the Wall. Robb Stark wears his new-forged crown in the Kingdom of the North, but his defences are ranged against attack from the South, the land of House Stark's enemies the Lannisters. His sisters are trapped there, dead or likely yet to die, at the whim of the Lannister boy-king Joffrey or his depraved mother Cersei, regent of the Iron Throne. And Daenerys Stormborn will return to the land of her birth to avenge the murder of her father, the last Dragon King on the Iron Throne.

Wow book two, what can I say?!

After completing the 'complete' book I think I'd have to say that this is probably my favourite book (by which I mean part 1 and 2 combined) that I've read in the series so far. It is by far the most complex, character-driven and action packed book of the series and I'd say Martin's most ambitious attempt yet.

When I reviewed A Storm of Swords book 1 I mentioned that it began to really delve into the character's psyche and motivations. This continued throughout book two also. In a world like Westeros life can be pretty black and white at times. You work tirelessly in your position, you marry to strengthen ties with other families in the realm and you honour your king but your family comes first. Because of the fairly rigid social and cultural boundaries and expectations many of the characters appeared to be fairly easy to assess. In this book (and part 1) Martin almost makes you feel bad for judging the characters so superficially or quickly. Characters like Jaime Lannister who seemed at first to just be an incestuous killing machine appears to have grown a conscience and built a wall between him and the rest of his family and Sandor Clegane, while not honourable or a gentleman, is definitely more than the 'king's dog'. It isn't as though they've simply swung in the other direction from bad to good, or good to bad but now they have far more texture and complexity and their morality is now hard to pinpoint, at least definitively.

Unlike A Storm of Swords 1 that seemed to concentrate more on this character investigation at the expense of action, this part definitely didn't lack in action. Unlike A Game of Thrones which heavily featured big and expansive battle scenes, this book's action was smaller but more potent. This time it was personal. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself!) Rather than large fights between faceless armies, brothers turned against brothers, friends vs friends, shadows flickered in the dark and the deaths were messy, unexpected and horrifying. Some (one in particular) were so unexpected and came from such secret planning that I could barely believe they had actually happened, while others were the culmination of three previous books of animosity or planning. In addition to the characters releasing some venom in their revenge or battle tactics Martin decides that this is the book that will begin to see some serious death tolls.

Death isn't a stranger to the people of Westeros. So far we've seen Ned Stark, Viserys Targaryen, King Robert, Lord Renley and countless smaller characters that won our hearts and some that perhaps we were glad to see die. This book trumps them all though. Death haunts every chapter but very few are expected. Unlike some books like Harry Potter where the death of popular or prominent characters seemed to be a bit heartless or unnecessary each and every death makes sense in this book. Sure I'd prefer a few of my favourites remained in the land of the living, but their deaths have so far proven crucial to the unfolding narrative. The sudden spate of deaths also seem to be pushing the story in a new direction and I think my prediction about the fire god R'hllor taking centre stage in the coming books will be correct. At least to a degree. I think I'd rework that prediction to say that R'hllor may not be key to the story, but it'll be key in pushing the story onwards away from the original narrative. If you read this book, perhaps you'll understand what I mean better, but I'd hate to give away any spoilers or influence your perspectives so I'll speak no more!

The books are roaring towards the conclusion now and to honest I can't wait to put this series behind me! It's been so consuming of my time and energy. The nature of the chapters means that it may be 100 pages between a Tyrion cliffhanger (for example) and the conclusion of that cliffhanger. That makes it hard to put down the book at 2am even when you know you have to be up in 5 hours, or to put it down so you can work on your big scary thesis that really needs to be worked on! I'm not very patient and I hate cliffhangers so more than once I've taken a stickybeak at some of the later chapters, reading sentences here and there to see if I can get a hint at where the story is going. This isn't a complaint about the book, more like a complaint about my lack of will power and hours in a day! Martin has superbly crafted a story that is so difficult to put down and that you can't get out of your head.



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