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A Storm of Swords, a Review

George RR Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire Series tells the saga of magic, slaves and knights in a world where the seasons can last a generation and a coming winter that never ends. The third book in the series, A Storm of Swords continues the tale where the second took off. The narrative, with its unique multi-perspective storytelling and gutsy material is a more mature fare than Harry Potter. Inserting lust, incest, greed, murder and envy in generous helpings. The third book is no exception

The main storyline –  set in a political vacuum after the death of a revolutionary king – continues after the defeat of his brother in the battle for the capital, King’s Landing. The defenders of the besieged city using a trap of napalm-like substance destroys the invading fleet and delays the incoming invaders long enough for the battle to drag on. The tide quickly turns with a flanking maneouver and timely reinforcements from a  political alliance with a regional power, the Tyrells of Highgarden. His son, in truth a product of incest between his wife and brother-in-law, now perilously rules the Seven Kingdoms and the continent of Westeros.

The rightful heir and brother to the king, Stannis Baratheon perseveres with his claim despite his entire fleet and the bulk of his supporters destroyed in the battle. A man convinced of his rightful claim and with knowledge of the illegitimacy of the Baratheon pretender, Stannis broods with his sorceress Melisandre who kills his own brother Renly in the previous book. He now ponders whether to sacrifice his bastard nephew to raise a dragon from an egg. Incubating the hopes of a victory with fire and blood.

Meanwhile the secessionist King-of-the-North, Robb Stark regroups his army after raids in the West. Mysteriously losing support from an allied banner-man in the second book, the puzzle is revealed after marrying a captive’s daughter. Insulting an ally after a promise of marriage after the war. Trying to restore the pact and return north, the Young Wolf arranges a marriage with his uncle in his stead.

Whilst the kings play their game of thrones, the perspective of the common people struck by war is shown through the eyes of of Robb’s missing sister . Arya Stark, once an unknown captive for a duplicitous lord in the second book travels with an outlaw band. The Brotherhood without Banners travels across the battlefields and the pillaged villages to harass anyone they consider as enemies taking Arya with them.

Farther north, the Night’s Watch retreat after a surprise attack of undead wights and demonic Others in an ancient redoubt. An ancient order defending the realms of men behind a massive ice and stone wall, the Night’s Watch has been severely depleted of strength and manpower in the centuries that followed. Losing strength to fend off an army not only of the coming invasion but of a massive host of tribal refugees fleeing the supernatural threat. Among their members is Jon Snow, the bastard brother of the King-in-the-North, who plays the traitor to spy on the wildling camps.

A continent away, Daenarys Targaryen sails for refuge in Pentos. Exiled after the Usurper Robert Barratheon seizes the throne as the daughter of the former king of Westeros, Dany now has in her care three young dragons. Persuaded to augment her forces with a slave army she sails to the city of Astapor. She sees firsthand the degrading conditions of the castrated slaves and Dany plots to use the Unsullied against their former masters. Thus, the last Targaryen forces change against the established slaveholding order with revolutionary ideals of liberty and freedom.

The series’ second book, a Clash of Kings will be showing in HBO soon (and a torrent near you). Thanks to a cult following and easy comparisons between Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and A Once and Future King by T H White. The characters are fleshed out and identifiable, but one criticism is with that it flits uncomfortably between diverging characters. The third book fortunately, does not disappoint for the fans of the series.

Whereas many writers lazily paint characters as either good or evil, Martin seamlessly weaves between various perspectives. Each with their own agendas and often diametrically opposed with rival factions. With many despicable and cunning characters able to crush and exploit goodwill against their opponents. A rich tapestry of human characters, Martin (a writer for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) weaves a new sub-genre in fictional writing: the realpolitikal saga.

With the overarching pursuit of power for various ends, the storyline is the most humanly realistic among many books to come out with themes of medieval fantasy and sweeping story arcs. With its surprising, mystical twists and subtlety in foreshadowing, the thousand pages one has to grog through to finish is worth rereading.  Perfect for a long summer and the coming winter.

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