A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin Book Review

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ASOS picks up roughly where the previous novel left off. Catelyn Stark, breaking down with grief, watches as her son’s hold in the North begins to slip. Now free from being Robb Stark’s captive, Jaime Lannister is escorted all the way back to Westeros by Brienne of Tarth. After escaping from Harrenhal, Arya finds herself in the company of the brotherhood without banners, a ragtag group of outlaws who protect the smallfolk from the war. Davos remains ever-wary of the red priestess Melisandre, especially as her plans for King Stannis Baratheon grow darker. Sansa continues to plan her escape from King’s Landing—now that her engagement to King Joffrey is broken for Margery Tyrell, she no longer has any protection. Tyrion struggles to get respect in a post-Battle of the Blackwater King’s Landing, especially from his father, Lord Tywin Lannister. Jon keeps his promise to Qhorin Halfhand to be a spy in the wildlings, but it proves to be a daunting task. Sam watches from afar as the Night’s Watch grows more divided by the day. Bran continues on his journey to the land beyond the Wall with Hodor and the Reed siblings. And across the sea, Daenerys begins her first conquest: the slaver cities Yunkai, Mereen, and Astapor, unknowing that a betrayer is among her men.


As I said in my last review, Martin is not scared to pull punches. This book is known among fans as “The One Where Characters Drop Like Flies.” And indeed, they do. Martin has a certain skill in writing a story in which no characters are safe. Although we know that any and all characters could be a death’s door at any minute, Martin makes sure that every death counts. In every scene that a character passes, I never once felt that it came undeserved, whether for heroes or villains. This unlimited fatality risk also means that the story holds great tension that keeps one turning the pages.

What probably makes this book a favorite among the series’ fans is that many, many important things happen in. A criticism of the previous book and the book before, for me, was that although neither book was boring, there were few moments that shocked the readers. Most moments came to the end, such as the Battle of the Blackwater. In essence, more buildup than payoff. ASOS remedies this by having a great event occur every ten chapters at minimum—not just battles, but betrayals, deaths, and revelations.

I also feel that this book improves even more on the characters and their depths. While we have yet to see into the minds of Cersei and Joffrey or other villains, we see different sides of the characters we have known thus far. Catelyn, in particular, gets much more focus and thus becomes more likeable. In the last few book, though I did not hate her, I felt that Catelyn had too much of a “I’m going to do nothing and expect everything” attitude. In this book, not only do we see realistic consequences to her actions, but we see her being point-blank shut down by the people she believed she could control. This is actually a pivotal point in this book: once-whole characters now broken, once-broken characters putting themselves together. Daenerys’s conquests prove to be much harder than that of Qarth’s, where everything fell to her favor. Sansa, despite still being the Lannisters’ chew toy, becomes more appropriately jaded. I thought it particularly interesting that we never see into Robb Stark’s head, just the actions that cause them—a good choice, as it would be tiring to read a character do something noble, then have the next chapter shut it down.

Unfortunately, in the same way I criticized Catelyn and Jon’s chapters (which have grown better), Arya and Bran’s chapters suffer from pacing. Most of their chapters describe their travels and a few sparse conversations. In the least, their chapters are not constant. Ironically, though I found the previous book’s sadder scenes to go on for too long in some aspects, I felt that this book could have slowed down some of its tragedies. In particular, one character (who I shall not name for spoilers) suffers a heavy loss that we do not see them grieve for very much. Because the chapters are not one-after-the-other—that is to say, there could be weeks or days between two characters’ chapters—we do not see their reactions to certain events and are instead told a quick line that simply says that they’re aware of what happened. There is a character in this book, Jeyne, who is used more as a tool than a character. She’s put into a very interesting position, but that’s all she is: a position. The only thing the reader learns of her is that she’s kind—that’s where it ends.

There is a scene in the last chapter (prior to the epilogue) that is very tense, very sad, and delivers a bomb’s level of a revelation. It all comes out a single character’s monologue, where they’re crying and screaming and…saying things that someone who is crying and screaming probably wouldn’t say. It breaks the effect, sadly. Tyrion’s final chapter is also wrapped up very quickly despite its many twists and turns, though I could excuse this more, since the character is likely too damaged and heartbroken to go into such emotion.

In short: with great tension and wonderful characters, A Song of Ice and Fire continues to be an experience of a series, however long it may go on.

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin


A Clash of Kings, second in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, begins very shortly after the end of Game of Thrones. Westeros is in pieces—the Starks have been split apart, winter is coming, and five kings—Robb Stark, Renly Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy—are battling for the Iron Throne. Catelyn Stark tries to put her shattered family back together, all while her son grows too fast for her to keep up with. Her daughter, Arya, is still in hiding, and is targeting her enemies. In his brother’s absence, Bran Stark holds Winterfell. Catelyn’s oldest daughter, Sansa, is a hostage in King’s Landing for King Joffrey and Queen Cersei to play with as they please. Also in King’s Landing, Tyrion Lannister puts his foot down and establishes his role in the game. In the North, Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch march beyond the Wall. Trouble brews across the sea, too, as Stannis Baratheon prepares to attack King’s Landing with Melisandre the Red Witch and Davos Seaworth at his side. Theon Grejoy, son of Balon, returns home after many years away. Daenerys Targaryen, last of the Targaryen, now mother of the world’s only dragons, struggles to find war ships for her Dothraki. While a red comet flares in the sky, Westeros is falling apart at the seams.


If you’ve ever seen Game of Thrones, you’re familiar with the grit of A Song of Ice and Fire. George R.R. Martin isn’t afraid to go into fine, gross detail on the screwed-up world of Westeros. It can go overboard at times, but it gets its job done. It’s also a case of “Reality Ensues”—as, to be honest, if we lived in a world where there were no ready police force and the law was only enforced in the enforcers wanted it to be (ie the law enforcers can have bias), there would be chaos everywhere. It’s a nice take on how fantasy worlds are usually depicted as cool and peaceful. Even if the detail isn’t gritty, it’s beautiful. Westeros is a place where everything is larger than life, and Martin depicts it well, from the clothing to the food to the many places travelled.

The plot is not action-packed (except for an important and grandiose battle near the end), for good reason. ASOIAF depicts a world where violence can reign, but it doesn’t drive the story. The story is, as the first book tells, a game. Each chapter is a character’s next move, whether it be manipulation, revenge, war strategy, or simple survival. Even characters not in a permanently-violent position, like Sansa, have gripping storylines. Just because a character is “good”, it does not ensure that they will win—or, if they do, that they will come out in one piece. Some characters do not have their own chapters, like Cersei and Littlefinger, but we still get a look in their heads through their actions and words. But though the story is not one with pedal-to-the-medal pacing, it establishes that it is heading in a certain direction. Stannis is planning to march on King’s Landing, Jon and the Night’s Watch are looking out for Mance Rayder, and Daenerys is looking for war ships and who to trust them with.

When reading and watching Game of Thrones, I always thought that Martin’s strongest skill was writing characters. Each character, good and bad, have their redeeming qualities and their flaws. Stannis has his low moments, but he has reason, too. Sansa is somewhat naïve, but she isn’t stupid. Tyrion is clever and cunning, but he doesn’t know how to hold his tongue. And so on, so forth. Even Joffrey, who has zero redeeming qualities, is so immature and hateful that you kind of love-hate every scene he’s in. The characters we root for screw up sometimes, and villains have motives, reasonable or not.

ACOK has an attention-grabbing story, characters, and details. Yet, for the same things I praise, I dislike in some sense. Details, for example, can drag on. There are scenes when a room full of people describes everyone’s clothing, one-by-one. Something that could be summed up in one paragraph stretches on for three or more to fill up the chapter length. Towards the end of the book, there’s a battle scene that goes into such detail, much of the tension and suspense is lost. I found myself skimming through many dragging parts of the book.

Because of this, Jon Snow’s chapters really slow down the pacing, as most is just travelling in the land beyond the wall. As said before, things could be summed it, but instead stretches on beyond necessity. Catelyn’s chapters are not so tedious, but they do have slow moments, as only one thing of great importance happens in them. Sansa’s, Tyrion’s, and Davos’s piqued the most interest, with Arya’s, Bran’s, and Theon’s following.

One thing that I distract from both this book and its predecessor is that sadder scenes are ruined with lengthy dialogue. There’s a very poignant scene from Catelyn where she mourns how broken her family has become, but she goes into such detail about things that the emotion is ruined. The sad scenes that work well are ones that have little to no dialogue in them, like, ironically, another scene with Catelyn.

ACOK is a long read, tedious at times, but ultimately worth it. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll be a fan of this, too.