Battles have been fought, lost, and won. Yet no king in Westeros' crown sits firmly on his brow, and there are enemies on all sides and traitors within. What means will conquer the Iron Throne? Will it be liberation, diplomacy, or a storm of swords?
The third installment in A Song of Ice and Fire is most definitely my favourite, and the quickest for me to get through, despite being the lengthiest thus far. The pace seemed to be quicker, perhaps because I was more engaged in the characters' story lines. The POV characters were the same as in 'A Clash of Kings' with the exception of Theon and the inclusion of Jaime and Sam.
Where 'A Clash of Kings' focused on the battlefield, 'A Storm of Stords' - despite its name - was more entangled with matrimony. Multiple characters tied the knot and none of the couplings were expected. I believe there were about five marriages in 'A Storm of Swords' and they held just as much tension and suspense as any well written battle scene.
The overall omniscient narrative of the novel, darting from one close third person perspective to another, showed the divide in information. Where the reader might know a certain character to be alive or dead, other characters were ignorant and it was interesting to see them act accordingly.
In relation to the new POV characters, I was immediately drawn to Jaime's character. He is surprisingly likable for a character whose first actions in the series were so despicable. His dynamic with Brienne was perhaps my favourite aspect of the novel. They both began with such distaste for one another but were well matched and formed a certain respect. It's a relationship I hope to see progress further into the series.
It would make sense that Sam would be the more sympathetic character of the two, but it actually took me a longer time to warm up to him. His first POV chapter consisted of him being too defeatist to be engaging. All he did was moan and wish for death. Yet eventually he proved himself to be a compelling and caring character.
When it comes to favourite characters, Tyrion and Arya still top them all. I like that they are both such flawed individuals and have dark sides which fester inside them. Tyrion has his lust and Arya has her rage. The most repugnant character in the novel is by far Gregor. Yes, the crown in this case does not go to Joffrey. Gregor makes my skin crawl and makes his brother, the Hound - whose character is also far more developed in this novel - look like an angel.
One thing I did note was that Robb reminded me of Ned in this book. He has that same double-edged honorable nature, which can be a strength and a weakness depending on how it is wielded. As he has never been a POV character I haven't given him as much thought as I have the other Starks, but seeing him in likeness to his father made me think on his characteristics more, both positive and negative.
What Martin is most adept at - and which is apparent in this novel - is his ability to humanise his characters. The focus is not on "good" or "evil" but rather the feelings and intentions which collide. Every POV character is a protagonist in turn, with their own antagonists, some of whom are also POV characters. It was interesting to see characters like Jaime or the Hound, who were previously less featured and harder to empathise with, become more developed and empathetic.
There were several instances in the plot where characters nearly brushed paths, barely missing one another. A character would come so close to the individual they sought, only to have the opportunity snatched away before they even knew it. It was altogether clever, frustrating, and tantalising.
The only real tragedy to having story lines so far removed from one another is that there are certain character dynamics which the reader doesn't get to see. It is particularly unfortunate if either character is killed, leaving the reader to only wonder at how the two characters might have interacted if they had met again or for the first time.
Like the previous two books, I listened to 'A Storm of Swords' on audio, read by Roy Dotrice. He is excellent at breathing life into the characters, but also at holding and heightening tension. Martin really raises the stakes and pens some of the most intense scenes thus far, and Dotrice delivered each one with riveting quality.
I look forward to continuing A Song of Ice and Fire with 'A Feast for Crows.'
Trigger Warning: Physical and sexual abuse.