Thoughts on the First Half of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords (by Bethany)

storm of swords cover image

 I am now officially reading this book “full-time.” Reading it only at night was working well until I skipped a few nights and then forgot that a major character had had his hand chopped off. That’s not the sort of thing one is supposed to forget when one is a bookblogger.

A Storm of Swords is supposed to be the best volume in this series – and I agree, but only marginally. As far as I can tell, all three (OK, 2.5) books I’ve read so far are identical in tone. Each one picks up right after the previous book left off, so what we have here is one long, multi-volume narrative. I’m often tempted to compare Martin’s series to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and in this area the two series are very different. Each of Gabaldon’s books has its own energy, its own feeling, its own set of dominant tensions. Martin’s books, on the other hand, make up one long never-ending sine curve, like a little heartbeat running through each novel. Crest, trough, crest, trough – forever. And while I do admit to being an inattentive reader sometimes, I think this hypnotic rhythm is part of the reason that I tend to miss important events. Nothing happens to the language surrounding the important events; nothing distinguishes it from the passages that just describe Arya eating pigeons or Joffrey being a dick or Daenerys yelling at some sketchy desert-dwellers or Brienne of Tarth telling Jaime Lannister again not to call her “wench.” This rhythm is embedded in the language as well as in the events of the plot. If there’s another literary work that this novel most resembles in this sense, it would be Wordsworth’s The Prelude: a gazillion-page iambic pentameter epic poem about going for walks in the mountains.

In this book, Jaime Lannister is one of the point-of-view characters for the first time, and the great surprise is that he is (mostly) not a jerk. It’s true that he’s arrogant, though that arrogance is a factor of his birth and upbringing, mostly. In the first two books in the series, Jaime is treated like a ticking time bomb whose release (from captivity at Riverrun, which is where he spends all of A Clash of Kings) would mean total annihilation for the good guys (if in fact there are any good guys in these novels, which is up for debate). In this novel, he’s much more sympathetic. Foremost on his mind is his sister (and lover) Cersei, whom he genuinely adores. He also feels great sympathy for Tyrion, who would likely to be surprised at how fondly Jaime thinks of him. It’s also clear now that Jaime is not especially proud of the fact that he killed King Aerys Targaryen. He bristles at the sobriquet “Kingslayer” and still feels deeply conflicted that he violated his oath to protect the king.

The other point-of-view character who is new in this installment is Samwell Tarly. Sam is basically Piggy from Lord of the Flies, uprooted and replanted in Westeros. He is fat and enjoys girly things like reading and taking care of birds and not going on endless death-marches in the snow. However, Sam is also the one who figures out that the “Others” can be killed with obsidian (which is not at all how it worked in Lost, but I digress). Some of the other men in the Knight’s Watch have started calling Sam “Slayer,” which Sam doesn’t like much – but nevertheless, he is carving a niche for himself among the Black Brothers. In the chapter I read most recently, Sam is present when Craster dies and is in the process of figuring out what he will be able to do to help Craster’s veritable army of his wives/daughters. They’re a versatile bunch.

In each book, certain characters’ chapters are more interesting than others. In this book, I look forward to the chapters about Jaime, Tyrion, Sansa, and Daenerys, and just a few chapters ago there was a Davos chapter that was really interesting. Bran’s chapters are a snooze in this book, as are Catelyn’s, and so far the “Narnia” sections of the book (which is what I call the chapters about Jon Snow and Sam Tarly) don’t interest me very much, in spite of the fact that social media assures me that Jon is a character one is supposed to care about a great deal. In A Clash of Kings, I could barely stay awake through the Daenerys chapters, but now she is busy buying an army of castrated warriors who are so inured to pain that one can cut their nipples off without eliciting a response (just like what’s-his-face on Mad Men!), and her chapters can’t come around fast enough.

I am definitely engaged and invested in this book, which is more than I could say about A Clash of Kings when I was at its midpoint. I’m looking forward to reading more.

This entry was posted in Authors, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, George R.R. Martin, Reviews by Bethany and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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