A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow – George R R Martin

It’s that time of the month again, first Wednesday of the month means Book Club update and we’re back to the A Game of Thrones series. This month I’ve been reading A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow, which is actually the first part of the much bigger original release of A Storm of Swords, we’ll be reading the second part in December I think.

Straight off the bat, I’m going to say I’m so glad that for the paperback release they split this book in half, I’m not a particularly fast reader and with a half term during the time I was reading this I wasn’t sure if I’d even manage to complete this one. I have though, in fact, I finished it a few days early.

I also think the style Steel and Snow is written in made it a struggle, for all the relief I felt that I was only having to read “half” a book, I also think it’s easy to realise that it’s only half the story whilst you’re reading it. There’s far more plodding narrative here than in either A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings whilst its gathering things together after the events at the end of the second book in the series, so we’re seeing key characters recovering and playing politics, more so than ever, after the Battle of Blackwater. Which is interesting to a degree but the politics never seem to go anywhere. We see the gradual build-up to a number of events, Joffrey’s wedding for one, but none of them really feel like they go anywhere in this book, in fact, a lot of the time the things being discussed don’t come to fruition because they’re all events being saved for the latter half of A Storm of Swords.

This means you’re left with a book that doesn’t progress things and thus feels frustrating to read and its only really a handful of chapters where the reader is given anything to sink their teeth into.

It’s a book full of journeys, with no end in sight, which is fine, it puts you in the shoes of all the key players and whilst it ends on a genuine cliff hanger it feels a bit cheap getting to that point.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to like here, I love Jon’s story throughout, I love that his tale has kind of turned into a spy movie, complete with a girl trying to turn him to the other side by playing on his sexual desires, I like Ygritte as a character, I find her to be both amusing and strong, and whilst I know the outcome for her, I’m enjoying any time we get to spend with her (though as the book ends, her and Jon have been separated, so to speak).

Another character I’m enjoying is Lord Beric Dondarrion. Up until this book we’d only seen him at the tourney in A Game of Thrones, since then he’s been mentioned rather a lot as there have been quite a few characters hunting for him for a variety of reasons, but here Arya happens upon him and I like the contrast between the books Beric and the shows Beric, they’re both the same person, but their physical appearances are (in my mind) very different. In the show, Beric’s been brought back from the dead and received a lot of injuries, but the only visible one is his missing eye which he covers with a path. In the book he doesn’t even do that, his eye socket is there for all to see not to mention the caved in part of his head. The description of him gives the impression of a dead man walking (which of course, he is), but he’s still an absolute badass. I have, however, found myself have to force myself to overlook the fact that The Hound wasn’t scared of his flaming sword when the two fought (even though a point is made that Thoros defeated Sandor Clegane in one tourney due to the latter’s fear of fire, though I may be misremembering that)

The key thing in this book for me is that I think, for the first time, we are beginning to see people’s morals being torn to some degree. Jon is torn between serving the Nights Watch and completing his undercover mission (though that also comes with the caveat that no one knows he’s alive, let alone that he’s acting as a spy rather than turning traitor) and his lust (which he’s mistaking for love) for Ygritte. Tyrion has been forced to marry Sansa to protect her, himself and Shae. Brienne so obviously wants to kill Jaime but must keep that in check in order to serve Catelyn whom she has sworn her allegiance to, and this is a pattern that’s seemingly repeated throughout the book for a lot of characters but I think may have originally begun with Arya’s story from A Clash of Kings onwards as Arya is mostly doing whatever she needs to do to survive despite her not really agreeing with serving the Boltons (for example).

I opened this basically complaining that its a book that doesn’t really go anywhere, but I also think its allowed the characters to breathe a little, I think I have a better understanding of the likes of Arya, Jaime and Jon than I had done prior to picking this book up, that said, I do think its the weakest of the three (or two and half…) books I’ve read in the series thus far.

 

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