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A Storm of Swords    by George R. R. Martin order for
Storm of Swords
by George R. R. Martin
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2000 (2000)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I was thrilled by the Game of Thrones, the first book in this series, and found it to be the best epic fantasy I had encountered in many years. Clash of Kings was almost as good a read and I looked forward to A Storm of Swords with great anticipation. The strength of the series is in its combination of variety and depth of characters, innovative fantasy elements, a complex world, and the brutal medieval reality that Martin portrays.

For some reason I expected a trilogy, but instead of finishing the story, this latest work is spinning it out, perhaps in emulation of Jordan's success with his seemingly endless Wheel of Time series. I think it would have made a superb trilogy. Though I read Storm of Swords with the interest that the earlier books had built up, I will not rush out to buy the next episode in hardcover. I found this one over-complicated, excessively brutal and verging on the macabre at times.

It was clear when Martin threw a small Stark out of a castle window and crippled him in Game of Thrones that he would not be going easy on his characters. It was obviously not a good idea to get attached to any of the protagonists except for the outsiders, the bastard son Jon and the tomboy Arya, who were clearly destined for great things. But the good guys are cut down on all sides in A Storm of Swords. To paraphrase the Stark motto 'Winter has come' and it's getting a bit too dark out there for my taste.

On the plus side, Daenerys Targaryen makes progress in building her army, complete with dragons, and the book spends a lot of time with three of its most interesting characters: the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, Night's Watch misfit Samwell, and Davos the Onion Knight. Some of the Lannisters finally get what's coming to them and Jon Snow and Arya Stark each pursue their own adventures with wildlings and outlaws, respectively. There's lots of action on all sides, so much and involving so many players that it's hard to track.

The aspect of Martin's writing that I find most interesting is his ability to portray his characters in all shades of gray. The line between good and bad guys is well blurred. Even the very likeable Catelyn Stark has a strong and unfair prejudice against Jon Snow and on the other side of the spectrum, Jaime Lannister and Sandor Clegane manage a degree of rehabilitation badly needed by both of them.

I look forward to reading A Dance of Dragons when it is released, but hope that the author makes it a little less complicated than Storm of Swords and keeps more of his characters alive for long enough to get to know them ... and, while I'm on my wish list, dragons are fine but it would be nice to have the surviving Starks reunited with their direwolves, who mostly howled alone in the wilderness in this episode.

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