Storm of Swords is the third book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and it will be airing on HBO beginning March 31. It’s also the book most people say is their favorite in the series. And while I found Book Two kind of disappointing, Book Three was worth the read.
If you haven’t read or watched Game of Thrones, and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, these books are definitely fuss-worthy. Martin has created a fantasy world on the scale of the Lord of the Rings, complete with detailed languages and history that goes back hundreds of years. You get all the fun of brutal medieval battles plus dragons and zombies. It’s fantasy, but what a lot of people love about Martin is that the humans come first in the story, and the fantasy creatures are kind of a backdrop. For now anyway.
I enjoyed Book Three a lot more than Book Two – Book Two was a lot of battle strategy and also seemed like a transition book. Plus Book Two seemed to spend a lot of time on the less likeable characters. In contrast, Book Three felt like it gave you more on the characters you love, plus it really developed some characters that hadn’t been developed before (namely, Jaime Lannister). Another thing I like about Martin is that there are characters you’re supposed to love, characters you’re supposed to hate, and then a bunch you’re not quite sure of.
I won’t deny that this book drove me crazy. While I was reading it I thought it would never end. I would watch the percentage meter on the bottom of my Kindle and it just did not budge. You think these books are a quick easy read, but they are crammed so full of characters and back-history and cities and islands and kingdoms you need an encyclopedia sometimes to follow what’s going on. You have to be able to tell the Martells from the Tyrells, for example, and you have to know that Davos is a character but Daavos is a town. You have to know who is from which royal family, who’s a Brother of the Watch, and who’s a wildling. Just for starters. There is a guide in the back of the book if you need it.
Martin doesn’t make these books easy on the reader, but I kind of respect that. It’s like you’re in his world now, and he’ll do what he wants with you. Which includes making you wait a hundred pages or more to find out whether your favorite character lives or dies. And with Martin’s books you know anyone can die at any time. It’s amazing how much that adds to the suspense of a book.
Should a writer write for his readers? You would think the answer is clearly yes, and yet… I recently heard an interview with writer Jennifer Egan on the subject of how much a writer should care about the opinions of readers while writing a book. She received tons of comments on her “Powerpoint chapter” in A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won a 2011 Pulitzer and is supposedly being adapted as an HBO series. A lot of readers told her they couldn’t get through that chapter and either skipped it or stopped reading at that point. Egan says that chapter is one of the most pivotal in the book and she couldn’t have written it any other way.
I’m telling you nothing about Storm of Swords because anything plot-related would be a spoiler. Read these books if you enjoy fantasy, or watch Game of Thrones and see if it suits you. These books are long, complicated, and VIOLENT. Just so you know. But Martin has a way of sucking you into his world that very few writers can match. So when I got close to the end, I felt relieved – and when it was over, I felt like something was missing in my life.
Relieved that not everybody had died, or relieved that you had your life back?
Everyone who reads these seems to love them. I feel like I need to take a week off to jump in, but if I wait for that I suppose it will never happen!
I once saw someone describe A Storm of Swords as the final scene in the first act. As a book, it’s climactic, but not in such a way that it closes the story (obviously leaving a lot open…). I’m glad you enjoyed it (it’s without a doubt my favorite in the series, and in general a book I rank quite highly), but be aware: second acts do not begin the same way first acts close…