John Keegan's Reviews > A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
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Jun 18, 12

Read from June 06 to 18, 2012


On the heels of the second season of the HBO adaptation of "A Song of Ice and Fire", which more or less covered the previous volume in the series, I felt compelled to delve right into what is, by many accounts, the most popular entry in the saga. And sure enough, I found it to be the rollercoaster ride that everyone said it would be.

It didn't take long for me to realize that many of the alterations in the narrative made for the HBO adaptation were meant to prepare for the twists and turns in this novel. It's also clear why the writers are likely to split this novel into two seasons worth of material. Simply put, the pacing in this volume never stops. It is as relentless as the body count is high. In fact, I'm curious to see how much they will still need to condense and streamline to fit this into a mere 20 episodes!

In many ways, this is the culmination of the first act of the saga, more so than the second novel. In fact, one could easily interpret the second novel as nothing but setup for all the massive changes to the status quo that play out in this volume. Very little in Westeros (or Essos) is the same by the time the story comes to its inevitable pause. If the death of Ned Stark was a shocking turn of events in the first book, the almost-literal mountain of character deaths in this volume brings the reader to the point of despair. Count on a good third, if not more, of the most familiar characters to end up dead by the end.

Despite the enormity of the book itself, weighing in at well over 1000 pages, there are few of the slow, dragging subplots that were present in the first two volumes. Whenever the story threatens to get mired in a given character's plight, the focus shifts, keeping everything moving forward. That's not to say that it's easy reading; nearly every chapter has some twist or turn that takes a character from a momentary sense of accomplishment or joy into a spiral of danger, death, and despair.

The worst thing to be in "A Song of Ice and Fire" is a character that seems to have run its course or served its purpose, because it usually means that death is not far behind. Or, sometimes, a fate worse than death. And yet, in many cases, this is only apparent in retrospect, when a character is cut down and their story is apparently over. Only a handful of characters are obviously meant to survive over the long term, and even then, they rarely have a moment of peace.

It sounds like an unbearably grim bit of reading, but the constant shift in the state of play becomes exhilarating. It's easy to see why readers were left dissatisfied and a bit angry by the sudden split in the story for the fourth and fifth volumes, which also coincided with the dramatic lengthening of time between release dates. The author has a legitimate reason to be worried about how long it might take for the sixth book to hit the shelves; not only is the HBO series going to apply some pressure, but the popularity of "Game of Thrones" has driven a lot of new readers to the books. And they are going to want a resolution sooner rather than later.

Be that as it may, this was easily my favorite volume thus far, and it sets up some surprising new directions by the end. A number of characters are left in a precarious situation, to say the least, but that only serves to make the temptation to leap into the next volume as soon as possible all the more powerful.

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