Oh my goodness. This book, A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin, was intense. And so exciting! I feel like I burned through it, even though it still took me about two weeks to finish, because whenever I did sit down to read it was hundreds of pages of non-stop action and roller-coaster emotions at a time. My goodreads updates feature an overabundance of exclamation points and capital letters.
In the beginning I was excited and thought I was totally prepared for whatever was coming, since I was now a veteran of two whole books in this series. The prologue featured a plot to kill Mormont by some bad Night’s Watch brothers, and then the Others attacked! Exciting stuff, but I was ready for Others. I was like:
As I kept reading, it didn’t take long for me to be completely surprised by the plot, and then shocked over and over again, head-spun, mind-blown, sick with worry, overjoyed with vicarious vengeance, exultant at victories, devastated at defeats, gasping at revelations, and repeatedly squealing “OMG!” Maybe I should make my own house words, like all the powerful families in Westeros have; instead of “Winter is Coming,” it could be “Plot Twists are Coming.” I should know this by now. This series is definitely a thrilling read!
Aside from the non-stop action, I would characterize this book as “the one where everybody grows up”, (except for Rickon who is M.I.A. the entire time.) Robb “I took her castle and she took my heart” Stark gets married, even though he breaks his promise to marry a Frey in the process, because “he chose the girl’s honor over his own. Once he deflowered her, he had no other course.” But he did have a choice, and Tywin Lannister notes that his choice reflects that “Robb Stark is his father’s son.” Plus, he’s King of the North, and undefeated on the battlefield. What a guy! He should live long and prosper! Yeah right, he’s his father’s son, and his father was basically killed for being such a noble guy! So yeah, I didn’t see Robb’s death coming at all, although I was suspicious about the Freys and the ones they kept saying couldn’t attend the wedding because they were “off on duty.” But I thought they were actually off away from the castle and were going to ambush Robb later, I didn’t think they would cut him down so heartlessly and unfairly while he was a guest at their wedding!! It was such a terrible, inglorious death for someone who deserved so much more! And Catelyn died in that chapter too, which I wasn’t super sad about since I find her annoying, but it was still awful since she might have allowed herself to be captured if she had realized that she did still have other children alive that she might see again.
Sansa gets married too, (poor girl)! At first I thought it would be to the crippled Willas Tyrell, (and she thought it would be to Loras Tyrell, silly girl. Besides the fact that he’s taken his vows of celibacy to serve in the Kingsguard, there are some pretty strong hints in this book that Loras and Renly were lovers). Anyway, she ends up having to marry Tyrion instead, which is a shame because it would have been fun to get to see more of Olenna “Queen of Thorns” Tyrell, who spoke so hilariously with lines like, “once the cow’s been milked there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder.” Sansa finally escapes King’s Landing, but her situation is still pretty miserable, as her rescuer is the creepy (in a rapist kind of way) Petyr Baelish.
“You told me that life was not a song. That I would learn that one day, to my sorrow.” She felt tears in her eyes, but whether she wept for Ser Dontos Hollard, for Joff, for Tyrion, or for herself, Sansa could not say. “Is it all lies, forever and ever, everyone and everything?”
Poor, poor Sansa. Later, when yet another marriage arrangement is forced on her, you can see just how far away she is now from the innocent and optimistic girl that went south in Game of Thrones.
It is not me she wants her son to marry, it is my claim. No one will ever marry me for love.
It’s not quite true, because Petyr Baelish seems like he wants to marry her for love–it’s just, it’s for the love he has for her mother, and how much Sansa reminds him of her…it’s creepy. Stop creeping, Littlefinger! I’m very worried for Sansa’s future.
Bran is getting better at controling his warging, and he has the maturity to decide that his group should take the hard trip to the Wall and beyond rather than the potentially easier but potentially deadly strategy of seeking refuge from their neighbors.
Bran realized he was crying. Stupid baby, he thought at himself. No matter where he went, to Karhold or White Harbor or Greywater Watch, he’d be a cripple when he got there. He balled his hands into fists. “I want to fly,” he told them. “Please. Take me to the crow.”
It took them the whole book to get there, but Bran and his posse are on the other side of the Wall now, having gone through the Black Gate (what?!) to meet up with Coldhands (WHO?!) I can’t wait to see what happens next with him, especially if he starts learning more about how to warg into other creatures, (Hodor?!)
Arya is the one who first pointed out to me this “growing up” theme, because she explicitly mentions that what she’s experienced has aged her.
“I’m bigger than I was. I’m not a child.” Children didn’t kill people, and she had.
A mysterious tiny old woman, (perhaps a fabled child of the forest?), picks up on some bad vibes from Arya one night, and calls her a “dark heart”:
“I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death…” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!”
Arya interprets the “smell of death” that the old lady senses as the body count that the young girl has racked up.
Arya was remembering the stableboy at King’s Landing. After him there’d been that guard whose throat she cut at Harrenhal, and Ser Amory’s men at that holdfast by the lake. She didn’t know if Weese and Chiswyck counted, or the ones who’d died on account of the weasel soup…all of a sudden, she felt very sad.
I went right along with this assumption, although I thought perhaps the old lady sensed that Arya was going to kill someone else soon, but I never for a second thought that Arya herself would be killed! When I finished the chapter on the Tully-Frey wedding, which ends with Robb and Cat dead, I quickly flipped to the next chapter on Arya (after I finished crying and yelling) because I knew she was right outside the same castle, with the Hound. I did not expect the Hound to take an axe to her head!
I was in such a fragile emotional state already, having just witnessed the murders of Robb, his followers, and his mother, having had to resign myself to the fact that these characters do not always get glorious deaths or long lives to reach their potential. But THIS?! My FAVORITE CHARACTER, cut down by this shifty warrior who keeps alternating between being sympathetic and being a total jerk?! Who is now 100% jerk-i-fied because he just killed Arya Stark?! I was inconsolable.
During the next several chapters, I kept having to stop reading temporarily to mourn.
Initially, I had hoped there was a metaphorical interpretation for “his axe took her int he back of the head,” but it was pretty similar to the description of Catelyn’s death, and I thought this must have been the “smell of death” around Arya the little old lady sensed.
Then, one hundred and seventy three pages later, another Arya p.o.v. chapter popped up! The Hound had just hit her with the flat of his axe, to knock her out so he could rescue her since she was determined to go into the deathtrap of the castle! I have to say, well done George R. R. Martin. I really thought she was dead, for 173 pages! You got me, sir. You got me good.
Jon Snow’s “growing up” in this book involves him “becoming a man”, by getting laid. I was ambivalent about the wildling Ygritte with her “lucky” kissed-by-fire red hair, and I didn’t like how unwilling to compromise she was, but when she died I still got a little choked up. It’s kind of good that she died, though, so that he doesn’t have that lingering conflict of interest.
And now Jon is the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch! I loved all of that, how Samwell really “played the game” to get him elected, how Ghost showed up so he came into the great hall as an imposing figure, how the Old Bear’s raven quorked his approval, too. Jon will be an excellent leader–look how he held the Wall, with so few men and supplies! But I wonder if Robb’s will of succession is going to complicate things for him, and how he will deal with Mance and Stannis and, oh yeah, the OTHERS?! That’s kind of a meta-narrative, though, so we probably won’t see it fully resolved until the last book. And probably Dany’s dragons will play an essential role in vanquishing the Others, too. (That reminds me, how cool was it when Sam slayed the Other with the dragonglass dagger?! Loved it.)
You know, even Jamie Lannister grows up a little in this book. He’s actually trying to be a good person now that he’s lost his sword hand! I think maybe most of his evil Lannister-ness was concentrated in that hand, and maybe it has also helped his character to be separated from Cersei for so long.
I absolutely looooove the begrudgingly respectful relationship between Jamie and Brienne of Tarth, especially when he goes back to rescue her from Harrenhall and when he gives her the sword of Valyrian steel and the mission to save Sansa.
“When Ned Stark died, his greatsword was given to the King’s Justice,” he told her. “But my father felt that such a fine blade was wasted on a mere headsman. He gave Ser Ilyn a new sword, and had Ice melted down and reforged. There was enough metal for two new blades. You’re holding one. So you’ll be defending Ned Stark’s daughter with Ned Stark’s own steel, if that makes any difference to you.”
Meanwhile, across the sea, Dany is growing more and more confident in her role as Queen. She was a badass in this book! When I read the part in Astapoor, where she was going to buy the Unsullied army by selling one of her dragons, I was so mad at her, but then a few pages later I was totally fangirling over the way she dominated those slave traders.
Of course, Dany’s victory in Astapoor wasn’t the only moment that I cheered for. I really liked the way Arya crossed The Tickler’s name off her vengeance list, yelling the same questions that he had used during his torture sessions as she stabbed him. And I liked how Tyrion finally stood up to and ended his father, the most cold-hearted man (that I’ve met so far) in all of the seven kingdoms. And of course I was elated that snot-nosed Joffrey finally died.
I was so glad that Joffrey was finally removed from power, but the way it happened had me instantly worried about Tyrion’s chances of survival, so I barely even had time to gloat. Although, his death WAS totally deserved, especially since we had just learned that it was Joff who sent the dagger to kill Bran in Game of Thrones.
Cersei closed the window. “Yes, I hoped the boy would die. So did you. Even Robert thought that would have been for the best. ‘We kill our horses when they break a leg, and our dogs when they go blind, but we are too weak to give the same mercy to crippled children,’ he told me. He was blind himself at the time, from drink.”
Robert? Jamie had guarded the king long enought to know that Robert Baratheon said things in his cups that he would have denied angrily the next day. “Were you alone when Robert said this?”
“You don’t think he said it to Ned Stark, I hope? Of course we were alone. Us and the children.” Cersei removed her hairnet and draped it over a bedpost, then shook out her golden curls. “Perhaps Myrcella sent this man with the dagger, do you think so?”
It was meant as mockery, but she’d cut right to the heart of it, Jamie saw at once. “Not Myrcella. Joffrey.”
Cersei frowned. “Joffrey had no love for Robb Stark, but the younger boy was nothing to him. He was only a child himself.”
“A child hungry for a pat on the head from the sot you let him believe was his father.”
Learning Joffrey’s motivation actually makes me almost pity him a little, but he was still a twisted psychopath. Elsewhere in this book, Stannis recalls Joffrey cutting up a pregnant cat and proudly taking the baby carcasses to show Robert. The kid was not sane. I’m glad he’s gone.
Random observations: I loved that Davos learned to read, rescued Edric Storm, and convinced Stannis to take his army north. I noticed three or four mentions of the phrase “dance with dragons” in this book, and I’m wondering how those mentions will relate to the fifth book. Melisandre’s prophecy about the stone dragon waking with the blood of a king must refer to Dany’s dragon eggs, which were thought to be stone, but hatched when she burned them on the pyre with Khal (“king”) Drogo’s body. When Hoster Tully kept mentioning “Tansy” as he died, at first I thought it was a woman he had an affair with, then later I thought it was an illegitimate child of Lysa and Petyr’s that he’d made Lysa give up, but having finished the book I think it was just the herb that he forced Lysa to unknowingly drink, causing a miscarriage of her bastard with Petyr. When Arya and Gendry are at the brothel with the outlaws, there’s a “red-haired inkeep” named Tansy, so I thought it could be her since Cat is a Tully and has reddish hair, too. I think it’s just a coincidence, though. The story Meera relates about the mystery cranogman knight at a tourney is significant, because Jojen kept asking Bran if he was sure his father had never told it to him before. I think the mystery knight was Meera and Jojen’s father, and the tourney was the one in which Rheagar won and gave the winter roses to Lyana and started that whole war that ended with Robert on the throne. I wonder if we’ll get to learn more about the role that the Reeds’ father played in all that?
So. That was pretty much it, the book was incredibly exciting and I had come to the end but for the epilogue. My heartbeat was starting to calm down. I was feeling satisfied with what a great read this had been, and ahh, here’s some little tag on the story about a random Frey going to deliver a ransom.
Suddenly, WTF?! Catelyn is still alive, or re-alive, like a freaking zombie, like Beric Dondarian was?!?! But she’s all bloated like a corpse and has her death wounds and stuff?! WHAT THE EFFFF?!?!?!
And that’s the end. OF COURSE it’s a cliffhanger, (I should have remembered, plot twists are coming!), and I’m so wound up and can’t wait to start the next one! Unfortunately, I already know it will be a few weeks before I can start Feast for Crows because I have some other books I need to finish, plus I need my reading schedule cleared on September 27 for J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. But I will return to Westeros as soon as I can!