This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

04 April, 2014

REVIEW: A STORM OF SWORDS

Cover art by Larry Rostant
Cover design by David Stevenson

A STORM OF SWORDS
BOOK THREE OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
BY
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

ISBN: 978-0-553-57342-8
Pages: 1128 (+appendix)
Publisher: Bantam Books
First published: 31 October 2000
This edition published: 2011*
(*First mass market paperback edition: 4 March 2003)

On the cover:

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world.
And as opposing forces maneuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others-a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords...


   Like the previous book, this is in no way a standalone. This is a series where you have to read the books in order. With so much going on I would usually advise anyone to read the books straight after eachother, or at least in a short timespan, but I am not sure you will get the most out of these books if you do. There are some flaws here that become much clearer when you read them shortly after eachother, so even though you will miss some details with longer breaks in between books I will actually advise you allow yourself several months before moving to the next book.
   I am well aware that this will be very difficult though. Martin is very good at writing in a way that makes you want to get more of the story as soon as possible (, something that explains some of the vehement criticism of the pace at which these books are published). Even though I found an increasing number of problems as I read on, I still was eager to get more of the story. The base story is rather excellent, and Martin writes in a compelling way, what is needed is someone with editing duties who has the guts to cut two thirds of the, increasingly unnecessary, passages the books contain.

   Obviously there are plenty of people who disagree with me that this is a meandering and boring novel with far too many unnecessary chapters, but I wouldn't have had as much problems if I didn't write review notes for each chapter. This is simply so dense that it takes a bit of scrutiny to see the many flaws, and if you are just interested in the story it is perhaps best that you don't try to look deeper into this novel. But when I started out as a reviewer, that is what I tasked myself with doing.
   The most obvious flaw is that there are plenty of unnecessary chapters. Some of them give you nothing that makes the overall story progress, and some have so little that does that it would be better delivered in a paragraph or sentence when next we see that point of view character. And that is another problem, perhaps the largest one, there is simply too many point of view characters here.

    I have nothing against multiple point of view characters. Without checking, I think that Harry Turtledove has a similar number in some of his series to what Martin uses. But there is a problem in that there are more than one characters who are PoV here that have little idea of what is going on, and we get loads of details that seemingly takes us nowhere. Switches between the different points of view seem to be a bit arbitrary too, at times it seems we get a "visit" to a character just so we'll remember they still exist.
    Another problem is the similarities between some of the viewpoints. At times it would be possible to switch names and move whole chapters to another character. This is partly do to the nature of the story. Most of it is going on at the top levels of the nobility, and court intrigue is similar wherever it happens. But there's also similarities between the journeys of the different characters, especially with Arya Stark and Jamie Lannister. Both of them are on the road, and their circumstances are quite similar. Overall there isn't enough of a distinction between what is going on in different places, and at times everything has a tendency to just blurr together.

   Characters are important in any story that spans as widely as this, and like mentioned above, there is a lot of them. Actually there is a whole lot of characters that have significant impact on the story that does not have their own points of view. We don't get close to the characters that we don't follow directly, and their motives are mostly well hidden.
   As for the characters we do follow, they are for the most part very open to us. But there is a huge problem with Martin's need to re-establish characters. At times we are given some insight that tells us something about a character that we already know. I found this very annoying, it's as if Martin didn't trust me as a reader. Like he thinks the readers are either to stupid to get things without it being hammered home multiple times. Or perhaps he has just lost control over the narrative, and isn't himself aware of that he has already established that character trait before. Either way, it makes for tedious reading.

   Not all of the characters will be as interesting, especially when there is so many of them. I found Arya and Daenerys to be the two most interesting ones. They have the most interesting character journeys in my opinion, and we get to see them grow as individuals as time passes. Jon Snow also has an interesting story, but his chapters are hampered by the above mentioned character re-establishing. He hasn't changed significantly since we first saw him, and we don't really need to get further confirmation as to what type of person he is. And he has a storyline that is interesting enough that we don't need any distractions from it.
   What becomes very clear with all the characters though is that they react to what is happening to them, they do not make things happening. (Daenerys is somewhat of an exception to that, but she is also trapped in a situation she has little chance of getting out of.) It becomes grating that with such a large cast of characters, they are all so passive. The constant stream of situations that are set up without the characters involved become pretty exhausting after a while. we get too much of a distance from what is really happening.

   There is certainly an interesting story being told here, or perhaps several interesting stories is a better description of this multi-strand narrative. Unfortunately it is buried in chapter upon chapter of uninteresting happenings, and sidetracks that doesn't seem to go anywhere.
   I get that this is a complex story that spans over a lot, but it doesn't seem like there is actually some authorial control over where this is going. The narrative is terribly uneven. We get page after page of little, or nothing happening, and then we get lots happening that is told with little detail. This is most noticeable with Daenerys, much of her story is told as synopsises.
   It actually looks to me as the structure of the novel doesn't work. That chapters with single point of views is a bad way to tell this story. And I got the impression several times that the narrative was written to fit this structure rather than the needs of the story.

   To sum up I will have to go back to the first paragraph of the review. This is a story you want to know more of, and Martin writes in such a way that you are eager to read on. (I for one has invested enough time in A Song of Ice and Fire that I would like to read the ending.) It does however fall apart when looked at more closely. It seems unstructured, and at times the narrative goes around in circles. This novel does however end very well, but getting there is a hard journey.
   This is Fantasy on an epic scale, true Epic Fantasy, but this is one for those that are really patient. There is almost as much marriage negotiations and actual marriages here as there is action.
   If you are a patient reader, can ignore meandering plots, and want some truly Epic Fantasy, this is a book for you. Readers who want things to move forward at quicker than glacial pace may be disappointed though.

REVIEWS: A Game of Thrones  A Clash of Kings

LINKS: George R.R. Martin  Bantam Books

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review. A lot of the times I read reviews about this book (or talk to people who have read it), I encounter a lot of praise about it.
    I have the paperback copy at home, and totally love the green cover for this one, but am only about 200 pages into it. I read the first two books really quickly and then stopped at the beginning of the third book last year, and haven't been able to get back into it since. I'll probably finish reading it eventually, though.

    Anyway, when I think back to my reading experiences with the series I really do agree with most of what you said, but I still ended up enjoying it. Not sure if I'll still like it as much now that I've read a ton of other fantasy books and have sort of become a less patient reader.

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