With HBO’s adaptation of Martin’s epic fantasy series almost finished, even if the series itself certainly isn’t, I will be revisiting my original reviews from 2011 of the five books in the series completed by Martin. You can find my reviews of A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings here and here, respectively. You can find my review of A Feast for Crows here and my review of A Dance with Dragons here.
In A Storm of Swords, Martin takes the action, intrigue, and gut punches from the first two books in his grand epic A Song of Ice and Fire and cranks them up to 11. As the book opens, war continues to rage on in the Riverlands, a massive invasion of Wildlings has begun to move toward the Wall, and Daenerys is about to embark on a spree of conquest on the continent of Essos.
Martin keeps the suspense taut and is not afraid to drive the knife in deep and twist. A Storm of Swords includes a scene as sure to invoke as visceral reaction from the reader as anything in the first three books. Unexpected deaths and plot twists are never in short supply.
Martin maintains the readable and workmanlike prose of the first two books and displays an impressive medieval vocabulary. There is a great deal of mundane exposition, but Martin skillfully uses it to drive the foreshadowing and suspense.
A Storm of Swords is easily, in my mind, the best of the first five novels in the series. It also marks the conclusion or at least winding down of many of the large story arcs set up in the first novel. After A Storm of Swords the series begins to concentrate more on what might be dubbed the “real” story. It also marks the inflection point between set-up novels designed to establish the series and to have the strength to stand on their own to transition novels devoted to characterization and shuffling pieces around on the board in preparation for the grand climax.
The Red Wedding has been rendered infamous by the show. It caused me to throw my paperback copy across my then-girlfriend’s apartment the first time I read it. Two years later it killed her interest in the show. Martin cashes a lot of plot checks that he’s been writing for the past three years. It isn’t impossible to pivot from that sort of thing and finish a series satisfactorily—Miles Cameron does it in the Traitor Son Cycle—but Martin struggles mightily in the next two books. It is hard to think in retrospect that those issues don’t start here. This, of all the books in the series, makes me want to embark on a reread. The first three books are as good as anything in fantasy. But they offer no payoff, the fourth and fifth books are disappointing (if not as bad as advertised), and the sixth and seventh books are nowhere in sight.
5 of 5 Stars.