A STORM OF SWORDS
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.