Disclaimer: I’m not going to review this series- they’ve been around for a while, and have been reviewed and awarded by far more literary types than myself. That doesn’t mean I’ll miss the opportunity to write a good reaction post to the story, however.
The third book in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series picks up as the events of the second book conclude, some of the scenes happening simultaneously. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, since manymanymany people are following the superb HBO series, and this book is reportedly going to be broken up into Seasons 3 and 4. I had the pleasure of doing a semi-read-along with one of my coworkers, and to be able to discuss the plot twists of this installment was probably vital to my sanity.
The fantasy element of this series is growing steadily with each successive novel, but it still falls within the realm of “accessible” fantasy. There aren’t any names that are ridiculously hard to pronounce, nor is the reader subjected to long conversations in made-up languages. Yes, there are A LOT of characters, some of whom share duplicate or similar-sounding names (Such as Robert Arryn, Robb Stark, and Robert Baratheon). Most of these are presented in context and fairly easy to differentiate between. (The damn Freys on the other hand… Walder, Walda, Fair Walda, Fat Walda, Black Walder, Walton, John Boy, Mary Ellen…)
Many of the characters have been traversing the land of Westeros, either on battle campaigns or searching for family members. Arya Stark is having the worst time of the bunch, being passed off between various groups who wish to ransom her. This is the first book where we see Martin having fun with the reader, playing around with his characters’ journeys in such a way that you want to scream at the book in frustration. Examples of this include Arya and Gendry arriving at an inn that Jaime and Brienne left just days before, and Bran Stark and Jon Snow being within the other’s line of sight and not managing to connect. The plot is a veritable tapestry, the story threads woven together so intricately that it’s almost impossible to explain why a scene is so vital without explaining multiple scenes before it.
Speaking of characters, Mr Martin was on my Shit List multiple times throughout the story for crafting such a delightful cast, allowing me to get attached to them and then systematically KILLING THEM ALL. There were times that I seriously questioned who the next two books were about, because the cast has shrunk that drastically.
The other aspect of the book that I absolutely cannot praise enough is the complexity of each and every character that inhabits the story. There are very few absolutes among the cast- not many are inherently good or positively evil. As we spend time in the heads of the point of view characters, we get a much better understanding of their motivation, making who we decide to “root” for throughout the story that much more complicated. I personally hated seeing the cause of the Lannisters succeed in any way, but still couldn’t help myself from wanting to support Tyrion and Jaime. I’m still firmly of the belief that Tyrion Lannister is one of the best-written characters in literature right now, and hearing Peter Dinklage’s dry delivery in my head each time he speaks a line only serves to enhance the experience.
That said, there were some plot lines that were slightly draggy (Sam and Bran, I’m looking at you), and some characters that I enjoyed reading less than others. The intrigue is constant, and just when you believe you’ve figured out exactly what happened two books ago, Martin throws another twist in there to put you off balance. This is a true epic in every sense of the word, and I can’t wait to revisit Westeros and its inhabitants in the next book.
Four and a half Mammoth Haunches.