Like a master composer, George R.R. Martin, in his third installment of A Song of Ice and Fire, has established the theme and begins playing with the music. Readers who the author surprised finishing the first two books will be bowled over reading A Storm of Swords. He has topped himself. Having established the world and its characters, Martin takes things to a new level with subtle techniques that simultaneously set things on their head while advancing the circumstances of Westeros to a more precarious yet strangely settled situation.
Smoke clearing from the Battle of the Blackwater, the subterfuge and fights become more gritty and underhanded, and not everyone survives. And amazingly, all of the plot twists and major outcomes still feel natural. Unlike many other books, mainstream to fantasy, which try to architect dramatic circumstances only for unrealistic coincidences to occur, nothing seems forced in A Song of Ice and Fire. The stage set two books prior, events leading to this point have unraveled like a ball of yarn, nothing unnatural or jarring in the flow of storytelling. And A Storm of Swords continues the trend, proving the opener and second movement were only the first parts of the symphony he’s composing.
The Battle of Blackwater, having driven back House Barratheon and its allies, has set the Lannisters firmly on the throne of Westeros. While Stannis licks his wounds, Tywin Lannister wastes no time. He uproots the king’s council, replaces them with people loyal to the Lannister sigil, and installs Tyrion as King’s Hand, all in preparation for the siege they know to be forthcoming from the Starks in the north. In the Seven Kingdoms, Danerys continues her press for power while the prophecy she witnessed in the House of the Undying looms overhead. At the Wall, Jon Snow crosses over into the North on an expedition to find Mance Raydar. Life only getting more difficult, the oath he took to defend Westeros from the Others becomes harder and harder to uphold with each step into the frozen land.
The conclusion of A Storm of Swords, while not as epic as the first two volumes, nevertheless sees some very important personal struggles play out. Lacking none of the impact due to this personal nature, the surprise readers felt upon reading the climax of A Game of Thrones is duplicated at the end of A Storm of Swords. Not fully manipulative of readers’ emotions, Martin nevertheless proves he is willing to allow fate its role in the story, for better and worse, tears or cheers the result.
In the end, A Storm of Swords is more great stuff from Westeros. Most diehard fans of A Song of Ice and Fire argue back and forth whether this or A Game of Thrones is the best. This reviewer happens to think apples and oranges: the first establishes a fresh world with vivid characterization, uniqueness the result, while the third manages to take the story to a new level by working within the rigid parameters marked out yet still surprising. The latter is not an easy task, and Martin should be recognized for it. Suffice to say, nothing in literature exists like A Song of Ice and Fire and A Storm of Swords is another great installment that proves the story is still innovative. Highly recommended for those who have read to this point and are curious whether the quality continues. It does.