Book Review: Game of Thrones – A Storm of Swords

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You may also know book 3 of GoT as “The One That’s just getting to be on TV.”

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I cannot wait.

I won’t lie to you, dear readers, I kind of changed my strategy with book 3.   After Books 1 and 2, I posted steady and concise reviews for each book.

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But then I got the GoT Bundle for my Kindle App… which I then put on all my devices.

 

 
So I sort of read ALL THE REST in one fell swoop. Thankfully, it’s kind of easy to distinguish between books 3, 4, and 5 in my memory, just due to the narrative structure.  More on that in my review of Books 4 and 5.

A Storm of Swords

Wherein Everyone Dies.  (Kidding!)  Actually, what I found is that Storm of Swords, or SoS, really ties together and builds upon a lot of great arcs that were building in books 1 and 2.

Essentially, SoS takes all of your favorite characters and makes sh** hit the fan for them.  Everyone’s plans go awry, every major character becomes a fish out of water in some way.  Some get what they’ve always wanted, some fight uphill battles, some are betrayed, and some die.

Fleshing Out Secondary Characters

My favorite arcs throughout this novel are still Jon Snow and Arya, with Bran as a definite third.  You know what, I’ll even throw in Samwell Tarly.

However, the third novel finds a novel way to make Sansa interesting.  Even if she herself is still a very limited character, she’s learned a lot from ‘Clash of Kings,’ and she gives us the closest perspective to Peter Baelysh (who is an incredible character IMHO).

As for Catelyn Stark, if you love her or hate her, she has a fascinating arc in this book, which introduces us to such wonderful characters as Brienne of Tarth, who will become an amazing foil for the Twins Lannister.   Without giving away too much, let us simply say that Freys are dicks.  That’s all.  In fact, that’s huge.  That’s kind of the one big moral point of the book.

Speaking of Lannisters, we see Tyrion kind of out of his element in this one, which is great.  Tyrion is Martin’s mouthpiece, as far as I’ve deduced, and really takes on an interesting arc after his shining hour in Clash of Kings.  Basically, no-one likes Tyrion.  Everyone picks on Tyrion.  It stinks to be a dwarf in a court ruled by your own jerk family.  And, as ever, the Lannisters seem to get more and more powerful while still being ABSOLUTE JERKS.

One great side character with which Tyrion becomes enmeshed is Varys, the Spider.  Like Baelysh, he’s one of the most interesting characters that doesn’t get a first person POV.

Tyrion’s perspective also gives us some insight to The Mountain that Rides (Gregor Clegane) and the Red Viper of Dorne, amongst others.  We still learn to really really hate Joffrey,  entertain a playful dislike of Cersei, and despise but respect the crap out of Tywin.  That guy runs Westeros like it’s Casterly Rock, if you know what I’m sayin’.

The Brothers Clegane both get some excellent examination in this book, and we start to get more and more influences from the greater world of the narrative.

While we’ve seen many sides to the Hound in the first three books, we  get to see the Mountain through both Tyrion’s eyes (as mentioned above) and through the eyes of Arya.  This gives us a Mountain-at-Court and a Mountain-at-large perspective.  That said, much of the Mountain is still defined outside of the man, through the actions and reactions of others.

Sam and Jon send us North.  Martin likes to expand his narrative boundaries, so he just full on sends his boys beyond the Wall in this one, to a world of Wildlings and walking dead.  The rangers are ragged, weak, and made of mixed men.  To be fair, so are the wildlings, just… there’s a lot more of them, and the north is their home.  But Winter is coming, and the wildlings are heading to the wall, led by a great secondary character by the name of Mance Rayder.

Looking back on the third book, I kind of forget what’s happened with Daenerys, just because her arc continues so smoothly through books 3, 4, and 5.  SHE IS MUAD DIB.

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Basically.  That said, she’s still very much in her own world in Book 3, where, as previously mentioned, things hit fans at high velocities (but mostly in Westeros).

Overall, Book 3 takes the general arc of the Lannisters being on top and watches what they do with that power in the faces of enemies that just won’t stay defeated.  Jon and Arya round out our world view by covering the Wall and all the little areas in between things, respectively.

Compelling Characters without Goals:

A note.  Arya Stark is such a compelling character in that she literally has no real goal, no definite place she wants to be, no real nemesis, but by God, Martin gives her some of his best writing.  She basically covers some of the largest geographic scope without having any definite accomplishments and is still the characters whose chapters I enjoy reading the most.

A Different Take on Characters

Whereas I feel that most fantasy literature focuses on the moral imperative of its characters, I feel like Martin really examines more closely the strategic elements thereof.  I like this approach because it lets Martin play with living, dying, succeeding and failing not in terms of who is the ‘best person’ but who is the most likely to survive, and in what context.   It also allows Martin the freedom to dangle the lives of the characters on their own choices, versus what ‘should’ happen in a properly moral setting.

This means that even the most morally reprehensible characters still act as interesting characters because whether or not they are wholly evil, they’re still players in the Game of Thrones.  It also means that characters deal with real-world incentives with their environments, and that street smarts and knowledge come in handy far more often than ideals.

Overall

Without spoiling everything, I will say that SoS was an excellent build on Books 1 and 2.  It ties together and expands all the arcs that were built up previously, has a strong pace, and is possibly my favorite book of the five book ser

Book Review: A Clash of Kings

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A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings

by George R.R. Martin

Clashing Kings

In the wake of the political intrigues of Game of Thrones, the Realm of Westeros is torn asunder as kings sprout from the various feudal factions.  In the meantime, magic begins to seep back into the world as the Mother of Dragons seeks an army to return her to the Iron Throne.  The key plot of the novel is that a comet shows up in the sky; three kings contest the Iron Throne, and one very estranged Queen attempts to gather an army of arabian knights.

Take to the Sea

Martin continues his tradition of viewpoint- controlled chapters, with a few new characters sprouting up in this second installment: Davos and Theon Greyjoy (who you might recall from the first books as the ever-smiling companion of Robb Stark).   Martin uses these two characters to explore a new aspect of his realm which has formerly left untouched: the sea.  Davos is a smuggler turned knight, and Theon is a ward turned sea-raider.  Davos chiefly acts as the insight to the workings of the ever-mentioned but seldom seen Stannis Baratheon, and Theon gives light to the actions of the Iron Isles.  Martin writes his sea-stories fairly well, I think, and while he’s no Herman Melville, he also doesn’t indulge in chapter long dictionaries of whales (cough cough Moby Dick cough cough).  In the first book, he wrote three contrasting narratives: the arabian myths of Daenarys, the high fantasy of Eddard, Sansa, and Arya, and the elder fantasy of Bran and Jon.  In the second book, high fantasy journeys into war, arabian fantasy goes from the desert-tales to the wonders of bazaar-cities, and elder fantasy delves further into the wonders of magic, beasts, and death.  His new world, that of sea-battling, brings in an element of grand tactics that was undertaken politically in the peace-time of Thrones but now exists in a realm at war.

Kaleidoscope Narrative

Martin’s second installment deals with a central key issue: it lacks the chief arc the first book held.  Not to spoil anything, but a certain noir story of the first book ends the way many film noirs end: with the death of a detective.  In place of our central hero, we have a weave of character narratives that, like a grand twitter feed, reinforce the main events of the world through various eyes.

The strong point of this aspect is that many characters get shown in a new light, and whole worlds are distinguished around each of them.  From the lowly life led by Arya to the disillusioned highborn world of Sansa, almost all aspects of the war for the throne are covered.   Catelyn, Tyrion, and Davos all give additional views to the various levels of warfare and feudal city-keeping.

Martin and Magic

As in the last book, magic is touched on only in fleeting moments, but whereas in Thrones, magic was a subtle thing, mentioned and suspected more often than shown, Kings features the subtle art more prominently.  The book itself begins with a battle of maestery against magic (while the first book began with a clash of ice and steel).  The link between dragons and magic is not only implied, but stated.

There are two takes on magic in this fantasy: magic that is seen, and magic that is experienced.  Those who see magic see its horrible consequences, while those who experience it are transported and in some ways transformed.  As in the first book, Bran and Daenarys are the closest tied to magic, but other characters get to see its effects, and even go through the experience of the stuff, in their own turns.

Like magic, death can be expected, and there’s no sense in counting any major character as safe.  Take Harry Potter Book seven as your pretense for the tally.

Character Arcs

What I enjoy about this second book is the redefining of Tyrion, who, I feel, is the author’s major mouthpiece.  The Imp is sent to rule, and takes on the role that Eddard played in the first book.  While Ned ruled by honor, Tyrion rules by wit and courtesy, and his battles within the crumbling city of King’s Landing are marvelous to behold.

I also enjoy the strengthened roles of the female characters in this book.  Granted, there’s the same overt sexual abuse of women; the rough and unequal sex is common in Martin’s wartime world, and Theon’s arc is thick with the stuff.  However, strong female characters abound in the work, not only in the Stark women and Dany, but also in others who appear throughout the world.  As the men of series, the women are each in their own way unique, some clever, some mad, some tricky, some foolish, some brave and some cruel.

Takeaways

Martin has defined his book as a world moving on through a series of events.  Even though he has removed the primary ‘hero’ character from the arc, he has replaced this character with a driving series of events, thus creating a plot that drives the actions of a large cast of characters.  Even as Martin explores the myriad arcs of his large ensemble, these events provide a kind of continuity for the characters.

Martin ends his work with a sendoff about devils and details.  One of his greatest strengths is his attention to detail in a content rich world.  Even though each chapter is told only through the third person limited omniscient view (seeing only into the mind of the chapter’s chosen character), Martin uses each point of view to show his reader different aspects of his world.  He also makes sure that his world events follow a certain geographic and temporal logic (magic is only Just coming back to the world, after all).  He also retains his flair for politics and personality, practically using scriptwriting techniques to help drive his fantasy work.

One weakness of this strategy is that sometimes it interrupts flow.  Tolkien had a similar strategy for his works, but would often stay with a set of characters for some time.  Martin follows a similar event for several chapters, but will switch perspective on the event with each chapter.  This proves the most difficult when dealing with Arya and Jon, who are the most isolated characters in the text (Davos, Tyrion, Sansa, and Catelyn all share similar Southron world events, while Bran and Theon have intermingling arcs).

Conclusion

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the second book of the Song of Ice and Fire.  I will say that, at some points, it is best read a chapter at a time, left, and returned to; but then, so was the Hobbit, so I cannot fault the work too much (I’ve already criticized Moby Dick, after all.)