Monday, August 21, 2006

George R. R. Martin: A Storm of Swords

George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords is the third book in his series A Song of Ice and Fire. I've been enjoying this series for the character development, the span of events, and the complexity of the action. This installment is almost 1200 pages long, but that wasn't a detriment. Martin is telling a story that fills the pages and continues to hold my interest.

The series covers seven interlocking medieval kingdoms that have recently lost the one that brought relative peace by conquering and uniting them all. Every house is jockeying for power, to hold the realm together, to hold onto a kingdom, or to hold a stable enough seat to start over. Each house's character is driven by the position they hold and the relationships they've relied on. The power brokers in each house are usually the ones who embody the family character, leaving lesser characters to have widely varying motives and approaches.

In the previous books, we have met quite a few characters, but events seem to turn around the house of Stark, the widow of Lord Eddard Stark and their seven children, (now ranging in age from Rickon, who is 4, to Rob, who is old enough to rule). This time around, the Starks are the focus of the Storm in the title. Several Starks fall, but even after they seem to have died or gotten lost, they continue to play a role.

Early in the book, Martin's round-robin telling of events from a different point of view in each chapter had me mentally reviewing the status of each of the Starks (and their major opponents) each time I put the book down. Even though it felt like there were nearly a dozen characters I wanted to track, I didn't have any trouble remembering where each one was, and what was about to happen to them. These characters struggle, make mistakes, sometimes succeed and often fail. There are a few characters who are purely ignoble, and others who are treated as rats by others but who we see, behind the scenes, striving to do what's right for their kingdoms or their fellows.

The biggest bloodbath in the book comes as a complete surprise, even though Martin ensured that we and the characters had enough indications that something was coming that I should have guessed, and they should have been prepared.

If you don't mind long convoluted plots when they're well told, I strongly recommend the series. There's a bit of fantasy (magic and dragons), but Martin keeps it under control. There's little that's libertarian here, but there's plenty to admire and despise about people's characters. They don't always get their just desserts quickly, but usually they do eventually. I've found the series to be an engrossing read.

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