Saturday, 4 May 2002
George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords (2000)
Review number: 1087
By book three of A Song of Ice and Fire, the civil war across Martin's fantasy realm is not just well under way, but entering its second wind. It is very much like the second, A Clash of Kings, continuing the threads of plot begun in the first, A Game of Thrones. Its theme is once again the brutality of medieval style politics, acting as a corrective to decades of banality in the fantasy genre. There is no politics, for example, in Tolkien, as can be seen by the implausibility of Aragorn's acceptance as king. The romanticising of the pre-industrial world is less common than it used to be, having given birth to the genre, and Martin has moved further away from it than most fantasy authors.
In fact, at the great length of this series - each novel almost as long as the whole of The Lord of the Rings, the continuing chronicle of atrocities and betrayals becomes rather wearing. By this point, of course, the reader will have chosen their heroes and villains, almost certainly following Martin's clear signposts (even if the characterisation has subtler shades than plain black and white), and through this novel the heroes generally have seriously miserable times. What A Storm of Swords lacks is the impact of A Game of Thrones; as that novel had the advantage of novelty, this is hardly surprising, and is the common fault of series conceived as a whole. I'm also impatient to find out the end of A Song of Ice and Fire, especially as not all the characters on whose side Martin seems to be can win. From the plot point of view, the most important aspect of A Storm of Swords is that Martin does in fact begin to winnow down his cast, something which is sad for the reader who has begun to care about them. Attention to detail is as strong as ever, and is especially to be seen in the way that the growing anarchy makes communication difficult, so that characters are unaware of things the reader already knows.