Book review: A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords – George R R Martin

And so he spoke, and so he spoke, that lord of Castamere. But now the rains weep o’er his halls, with no-one there to hear…

I love that song.

I’ve been a bit frustrated where Game of Thrones is concerned. Having not been keeping up with the show when it was actually on TV, I’ve had to rely on DVDs. I haven’t seen Season 4 yet, and the DVD doesn’t come out until February – although since I watched all of Season 3 in one weekend, once it comes, I should be able to get through it easily before Season 5 starts in the spring and I can finally watch the show as it’s broadcast. The problem is, I like to use the Internet in the meantime, and when you use the Internet, it’s all but impossible to avoid spoilers anywhere. Just typing “Tyrion” into the Youtube search gives you spoilers. On a couple of occasions, even the newspaper has given me the middle finger and spoiled a few details for no good reason.

So, tired of this state of affairs, and having already read the first two books in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, I decided that maybe I could create a shield against spoilers by simply continuing to read the books. Hence my recent completion of both halves of A Storm of Swords, the third in the series. I don’t see much point in giving a synopsis like usual, because surely nobody’s going to pick up this book having not read the first two; and if you haven’t read the first two, then I’d be the one guilty of spoilers. Plus there’s the fact that while in a series like Harry Potter, each book stands on its own with an individual plot while still being part of a bigger whole; in A Song of Ice and Fire, the whole takes precedence. A Storm of Swords is just the third chapter in the big overall story, so it’s hard to summarise the plot of this one book, if there really is one.

About the first two thirds of the book go over events which are covered in Season 3 of Game of Thrones – and as I read this part, I found myself thinking that the book was really quite mediocre compared to the show. Probably the book’s best advantage over the show is the history involved; Martin did a really good job creating a comprehensive history for Westeros and an understanding of how things work day-to-day in all the various places. There’s no part where it doesn’t feel believable; it’s a real, breathing, operating fantasy world. Occasionally, some small reference to past events is slipped in, which works better than unnatural info-dumping. The fact that all this history tends to be really interesting just on its own certainly doesn’t hurt.

But I don’t feel like I understand and appreciate the characters quite as well as I do in the show, which is strange because you’d expect the opposite to be the case in a book-screen adaptation comparison; the book has more room to develop things, after all. Maybe it’s the effect of seeing them onscreen, where the skill of the actors can play a part; or maybe it’s the fact that the show isn’t limited by Martin’s system of having chapters from the POV of a certain group of characters, and can put together scenes with whatever characters it likes. The show gives more scenes – and thus, more depth – to characters like Robb, Joffrey and Stannis, who are very interesting and watchable yet don’t have as much personal focus in the book.

Also, many of the changes that the show makes to the source material involve condensation of events and characters, which also works in its favour. Firstly, you feel like you have a more cohesive idea of the big picture, whereas in the book, it’s too chaotic and too much is happening offscreen. Secondly, the book’s cast is too big; while you don’t usually forget who the characters are and where you last saw them (like, say, Bleak House), most of them aren’t distinctive enough and become little more than a list of names.

As in the last book, I like chapters centred around some characters better than others. Tyrion and Catelyn’s chapters are usually pretty good, being closer to the heart of the action – but those of some others tend to drag, particularly in the first half of the book. Arya and Bran spend much of their time simply wandering around in the wilderness, and while Jon is actually doing things, he starts off seeming a long way away from where the most exciting stuff is happening. I know we need to emphasise that it’s a big world with lots of different things going on, and the diversity is good, but still.

Luckily, in the second half, things really kick off. I enjoyed this part a lot more, and I’m not sure whether it is truly more exciting or because it largely comprises of things I haven’t seen in the show yet. The infamous Red Wedding is there, just as painful and horrible in text as on screen, and some really brilliant action follows too. I particularly like the fights on the Wall between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings; there’s a true sense of desperation against overwhelming odds and you really don’t know how things are going to turn out.

As for the cut-off points of the various sub plots, well…there are some fantastic cliff hangers here. When I was finished, I wanted to get onto the next book right away, except I still have a couple of others that I’m partway through. So yes, another good read overall, and for the moment, I’m safe from a sizeable chunk of spoilers! Rating: 4/5.

About R.J. Southworth

Hi there. I've been blogging since January 2014, and I like to talk about all sorts of things: book reviews, film reviews, writing, science, history, or sometimes just sharing miscellaneous thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you!
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4 Responses to Book review: A Storm of Swords

  1. Nice handling of the issue of reviewing the book without doing a traditional review. Having read the books and seen the show, I was interested in your perspectives.

    I hear what you are saying about some characters not having the same in-depth focus as they did on the show. I didn’t mind Robb’s military adventures not being shown in the books, but they had to cover it on the TV or else the audience would forget who he was…

    Hope you enjoy A Feast For Crows and A Dance of Dragons!


    • Thanks – glad you liked it. It was quite fun to write a non-traditional review.

      I think somebody said on the DVD commentaries that nobody wanted to lose Richard Madden for a whole season because he gave such a good performance, which was partly why the character of Talisa was invented instead of Jeyne Westerling so he didn’t have to disappear. I guess in the case of Theon, there’d be a risk of forgetting who he was if they followed the books, as I’ve heard he doesn’t actually appear again there until A Dance of Dragons.


  2. Elle says:

    I read the first book and loved it so much I couldn’t wait to get the next one. I was so impatient to find out what happened next I read the synopsis on Wikipedia, after that I didn’t want to read the rest of the books. Now that I’ve read your review it has wetted my appetite and i’m going to get the next book. Great review.


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