Mike's Reviews > A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
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's review
Nov 21, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, epics, reviewed, also-a-tv-show
Read 2 times. Last read January 1, 2015 to July 2, 2015.

My review of Game of Thrones

My review of Clash of Kings

And my slow re-read of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series continues with the third installment A Storm of Swords (which is probably one of the worst types of weather to be stuck in, just ask so many characters form this book). Since everyone and their mother has read, watched, or is at least aware of the plot lines in this series I thought I would instead write about my experience with the re-read and point out quotes, passages, and ideas I liked. Expect lots and lots and lots of spoilers for the books and TV show.


When I initially read this series I thought this was the best book of the lot. So much action, twists, amazing characters, and plot development. After reading it again I stand by that assessment. Martin does a stupendous job keeping things moving in an interesting direction for just about all the POV characters. While a lot of the first half of the book is set up, it is expertly written and pays off big time in the second half. Subtle clues that Martin drops bear fruit and once again we are reminded that standard fantasy themes are about as popular in Westeros as Greyscale.

First off we have some pretty awesome new characters. From High Garden we have the Queen of Thorns, Matriarch of the powerful Tyrell family. She is old, sassy, blunt, smart as a whip, and turns some lovely phrases:

"Gallant, yes, and charming, and very clean. He [Renly Baratheon] knew how to dress and he knew how to smile and he knew how to bathe, and somehow he got the notion that this made him fit to be king."


"We should have stayed out of all this bloody foolishness if you ask me, but once the cow's been milked there's no squirting the cream back up her udder."


"His [Lord Tyrell, her son] father was an oaf as well. My husband, the late Lord Luthor. Oh, I loved him well enough, don't mistake me. A kind man, and not unskilled in the bedchamber, but an appalling oaf all the same. He managed to ride off a cliff whilst hawking. they say he was looking up at the sky and paying no mind to where his horse was taking him.

"And now my oaf son is doing the same, only he's riding a lion instead of a pelfry. It is easy to mount a lion and not so easy to get off... Should you ever have a son, Sansa, beat him frequently so he learns to mind you."


[At Joffrey and Margaery's absurdly extravagant wedding] "I do so hope he plays us 'The Rains of Castamere.' It has been an hour, I've forgotten how it goes."

She is played to perfection by the indomitable Diana Rigg, and he scenes with Charles Dance's Lord Tywin were some of the best of seasons three and four.

Another great new character we meet is the Oberyn Martell, brother to the Prince of Dorne and general badass who earned the nickname Red Viper from his amazing snake collection (Hold a moment, I am being told it is because he is rumored to use aggressively nasty poisons on his weapons. Oh well, an honest mistake on my part).


The High Septon began with a prayer, asking the Father Above to guide them to justice. When he was done the father below [Lord Tywin] leaned forward to say, "Tyrion, did you kill King Joffrey?"

He would not waste a heartbeat. "No."

"Well, that's a relief," said Oberyn Martell dryly.


Oberyn abruptly changed the subject. "It's said there are to be seventy-seven dishes served at the king's wedding feast."

"Are you hungry, my prince?"

"I have hungered for a long time. though not for food. Pray tell me, when will the justice be served?"
(Yes, even badass warriors can tell terrible Dad jokes.)


But hands down, he probably had one of the greatest one-on-one fight scenes in all the books when he showed down with The Mountain that Rides. Pedro Pascal absolutely rocked this character in the show and owned just about every scene he was in.

Rereading this book gave me a better context to understand some things. Like this amazingly prescient prophecy given by an ancient, tiny woman:

"I dreamt I saw a shadow with a burning heart butchering a golden stag, aye (view spoiler). I dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung. On his shoulder perched a drowned crow with seaweed hanging form his wings (view spoiler). I dreamt of a roaring river and a woman that was a fish. Dead, she drifted, with red tears on her cheeks, but when her eyes did open, oh, I woke from terror (view spoiler)."

Later we get another snippet of prophecy whose means currently eludes me: "I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom tripping from their fangs (view spoiler). And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow (view spoiler).

Pretty awesome stuff.

Martin, for all the crap he get about rape and sexual violence (a lot of that is probably warranted) does do a magnificent job highlighting just how damaging the patriarchy is and allowing his female characters to shine through with some kickass scenes.

"So long as you [Cersei] remain unwed, you allow Stannis to spread his disgusting slander. you must have a new husband in your bed, to father children on you."

"Three children is quite sufficient. I am Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, not a brood mare! The Queen Regent!"

"You are my daughter, and will do as I command."

"I will not sit here and listen to this-"

"You will if you wish to have any voice in the choice of your next husband... You will marry and you will breed. every child you birth makes Stannis more a liar"

Not quite the fairy tale glamour of being a queen of your own kingdom. Even the highest ranking woman in the realm is still but an object for the males in her family to use for political gain.

"Woman, you bray like an ass, and make no more sense."

"Woman? Is that meant to insult me? I would return the slap if I took you for a man. I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, khaleesi to Drogo's riders, and queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros."

You can guess who ends up failing in the "not being killed by the other" competition.

And on that note I think it is important to point out something that is often glossed over. Daenerys gets a lot of (well earned) crap for being a terrible political leader. As we see in the subsequent books, but get the first glimpse of in this one, she stumbles from one bad policy to another, typically making things worse. But we rarely see Robb "I'm so cool I get an extra 'b' in my name" Stark get similarly lampooned. Let's look at some of his terrible mistakes:

-Killing the Karstarks and alienating a significant amount of Northmen.
-Trusting Theon "My Dad rebelled against Robert Baratheon and has been bitter ever since" Greyjoy with securing an alliance with the Ironborn whose entire existence is comprised of raping things they had not already set on fire.
-Denuding the North of most of its military strength.
-Marrying for love/because he got infatuated with a maiden thereby pissing off a major supporter who also controlled the only route back to his homeland.
-Trusting anyone who has a torture device as their family symbol.
-Being more than 10 feet away from his own direwolf.

The difference between him and Daenerys is that he had the courtesy to let all his mistakes end up killing him while she has stuck around for all the books. Seriously, he was a great battlefield commander, but just as bad of a political leader as her, but she gets a lot more crap for her efforts than he does.

One final note I want to make before getting into some of the many, many, MANY great bits of prose is the choice that both Tywin Lannister and Stannis Baratheon face regarding the execution of the war.

Tywin: "Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner?"

Stannis: "My duty is to the realm. How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? the darkness will devour them all, she says... what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?"

Both, no matter how much they might deny it, take the same approach to justify their actions. Sure, they may be killing people, but think of all the people that AREN'T being killed. I found it interesting how subtlety Martin juxtaposed these decisions in sequential chapters. And the question is by no means settled here, many other characters will have to face the decision of how to weigh the needs of the many compared to the needs of the few. Of course I am sure it helped Stannis and Tywin that the needs of the many so conveniently aligned with their own needs.

Obviously there are tons of other juicy details that I have neglected (Jamie's redemption arc, the devastation war causes populations ("War was everywhere, each man against his neighbor."), and the great threat of the Others to name a few), but there is only so much digital ink available. Sufficed to say this book is filled to the brim with action, intrigue, and twists that make it, in my mind, still the best book of the series.

Now on to some fun passages!

Dolorous Edd is the best Edd:
"I never win anything. The gods always smiled on Watt, though. When the wildlings knocked him off the Bridge of Skulls, somehow he landed in a nice deep pool of water. How lucky was that, missing all those ricks?"

"Was it a long fall? Did landing in the pool of water save his life?"

"No. He was dead already, from that axe in his head. Still, it was pretty lucky, missing the rocks."


Damn, George Martin can turn a pretty phrase:
Pale mists rose from the black earth as the riders threaded their way through the scatter of stones and scraggly trees, down towards the welcoming fores strewn like jewels across the floor of the river valley below.


Oh Sansa, welcome to the terror that is adulthood:
They are children, Sansa thought. They are silly little girls... They've never seen a battle, they've never seen a man die, they know nothing. Their dreams were full of songs and stories, the way hers had been before Joffrey cut her father's head off. Sansa pitied them. Sansa envied them.


Sometimes the accounting bits get a little tricky/It is all relative really:
I've lost a hand, a father, a son, a sister, and a lover, and soon enough I will lose a brother. And yet they keep telling me House Lannister won this war.


Way to be a total fatalistic killjoy Tyrion:
It all goes back and back, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our stead.


Because of course Joffrey is a little racist:
Of late the king had been repeating little jests about the Dornish that he'd picked up from Mace Tyrell's men-at-arms. How many Dornishmen does it take to shoe a horse? Nine. One to do the shoeing, and eight to lift the horse up. Somehow Tyrion did not think Doran Martell would find that amusing.


Wildings or Marxists?:
"The gods made the earth for all men t'share. Only when the kings come with their crowns and steel swords, they claimed it was all theirs. My trees, they said, you can't eat them apples. My stream, you can't fish there. My wood, you're not t'hunt. My earth, my water, my castle, my daughter, keep your hands away or I'll chop'em off, but maybe if you kneel to me I'll let you have a sniff. You call us thieves, but at least a thief has t'be brave and clever and quick. A kneeler only has t'kneel."


Thoros, the Best Red Priest:
"I say we need a fire. The night is dark and full of terrors. And wet too, eh? Too very wet."


(Speaking of the Red God...) Everyone always forgets that second part:
"The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope.


Jon Snow, a know nothing who is also terrible at vows:
"Donal, the hot knife, if you please. I shall need you to hold him still."

I will not scream, Jon told himself when he saw the blade glowing red hot. But he broke that vow as well.


And why not finish up on the true villains of this sprawling morality play:

A horse's head emerged from the darkness. Same felt a moment's relief, until he saw the horse. Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. On its back a rider pale as ice... The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new fallen snow.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 21, 2011 – Shelved
November 22, 2011 – Shelved as: fantasy
October 16, 2013 – Shelved as: epics
January 1, 2015 – Started Reading
July 2, 2015 – Finished Reading
July 6, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed
December 26, 2017 – Shelved as: also-a-tv-show

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