Friday, 10 May 2013

Valar Morghulis

Despite promising in January that I would leave Westeros behind and tackle my growing To-Be-Read pile, as soon as I finished George RR Martin’s A Clash of Kings (1999) I found myself pining for the characters who have become so much a part of my reading life. Sure I dabbled in other books, but it wasn’t too long before I cracked the spine on Book 3 of the Song of Ice and Fire series and commenced A Storm of Swords - Part 1: Steel and Snow (2000).

**Caution  - Spoilers Ahead**

The novel begins just after the Battle of Blackwater and what remains of Stannis Barratheon’s army has retreated. In Kings Landing Twyin Lannister is puppet master as Hand to King Joffrey. Lady Margaery Tyrell, now a widow, is betrothed to the young King. Sansa Stark has been relieved of her engagement to the tyrannical brat, and has become fast friends with Margaery. Sansa is hopeful of marrying handsome Loras Tyrell, unaware he has no interest in women.  

Wicked Tywin Lannister is keen to forge alliances and so quickly organises marriages for his children: Tyrion to Sansa Stark, and Cersai to Loras Tyrell. Neither is delighted by the betrothals yet they are powerless against their dispassionate father. But Tywin may have met his match with Margaery’s grandmother Oleana Redwyne, who is razor sharp and possesses a wicked wit.

Meanwhile King in the North, Robb Stark, is winning many battles but losing allies by marrying for love not duty. He is trying to be Kingly but in doing so has to make difficult choices. His youngest sister Arya, still trying to get home to Winterfell, has been handed over to the Brotherhood without Banners, and comes face to face with Sandor Clegane.  Bran, Rickon and their entourage continue their journey North to the Wall.

Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow has fallen in with the Wildings and must convince them that he is loyal despite his desire to return to the North Watch. His intimacy with Ygritte only complicates matters for him. Elsewhere Mormont’s Watch crew is falling apart and Samwell Tarly has fled from Caster’s Keep with Gilly and her newborn son. 

Across the sea in the east Daenerys Targareyen buys a slave army, the Unsullied, and proves herself a brave warrior. With her dragons growing, Dany is gearing up for her journey across the sea to reclaim her throne. 

Martin has managed to change my feelings about some of the characters with this installment. Spending more time with Daenerys has made me admire her more. Samwell has his own chapters, as does Jamie Lannister. The Kingslayer has been drawn as a complex, interesting man and I loved how Martin revealed Jamie’s backstory. I must say though, I did miss Theon Greyjoy who has not been seen since he burned Winterfell to the ground at the end of the pervious book.

The first part of this novel ends with guests arriving for King Joffrey’s lavish wedding, including visitors from Dorne who seem intent on vengeance for past wrongs. The next part of A Storm of Swords – Part 2: Blood and Gold (2000) has been set up perfectly and it will take all my willpower to turn my attention to other books before finishing this compelling saga.

This is the first Fire and Ice book I have read at the same time as the HBO Game of Thrones series airs.  While I love the book and the series, reading them in parallel has not been a great idea for me. I feel it would have been far better to allow a gap between so I could have enjoyed the show fully without direct comparisons to the book.

My reviews of the previous instalments - A Game of Thrones (1996) and A Clash of Kings (1999) - are also available on this blog.