George R.R. Martin


Steel & Snow

A Song of Ice & Fire

Book Three: A Storm Of Swords

(Part 1)




Still a bit suspicious after the last book, but this one was more enjoyable. Partly because of some interesting issues of justice relating to character, and partly because he lets a few more nice things happen. Perhaps I’ll end up forgiving him for Book 2 if it was just to deliberately have a rock-bottom to build from. He still worries me with the sheer number of characters - and ever introducing more! - can he get away with this?? - but maybe he can. There’s also this almost soap opera framework, with a dozen (at least) intersecting plot lines, ever ending on a cliff hanger, that could go on forever. Even Martin’s having trouble restricting it - Book Three, Part 1 indeed!


The situations are so strong that I think it’s a deliberate theme (something fantasists don’t always bother with, or at times even studiously avoid. Most often they just tack on the standard rags to riches/goodies v. Baddies malarky) that Martin’s forcing onto us: don’t judge others. Several characters that are, plotwise, ‘baddies’ and have done some undeniably awful things, are still managing to arouse our sympathies. Best not to get to know your enemies too well, you might start to understand them, and that can only complicate things. Moreover Martin allows ‘goodies’ to do things that may have felt noble but turn out to be stupid (the classic being Catelyn Stark). 


Oh, there are still some just plain ugly and evil brutes about, and the odd paragon, but there are a lot in between. Not just, “I understand why they’re so evil,” but I don’t hate, for example, that incestuous mongrel who nearly killed a child for simply wandering in at the wrong time. The process is exemplified by Jon Snow, the bastard of the sincere and honourable Ned Stark. Snow holds his honour dearly, unable to claim any family advantage, and joins the black brotherhood, which has only its code of honour to hold it together. He takes his vows of celibacy and fealty seriously. And somehow ends up as a double agent, literally sleeping with the enemy to maintain his cover. What does he now think of oathbreakers? What does he now think of the ‘others’ who, when you get to know them, are often better company than many of the brotherhood?


Danerys is probably still my favourite. She’s forming a new dynasty from nothing, but there’s some real magic and majesty there. When others say, ‘that’s just the way the world is,” she’s saying, “not once I’m finished with it.” And somehow despite circumstances she’s making her ridiculous boasts not so ridiculous. Martin has given her a couple of great scenes in the birth of the dragons and the destruction of the slavers. She’s also a confused teenager prone to rage, but this is queenly rage too. She’s giving the hope of some overall justice and resolution ... although it’s a bit of a worry that she’s sworn to take out the closest things we’ve got to protagonists in the Stark family. While I appreciate the skill and the insight Martin’s using to create enemies that we can both sympathise with, I still don’t know that you can pull off a satisfying epic without resolution.


March 2002