A Storm of Swords - George R.R. Martin

As always, as there are plenty of reviews out there already, I'm just going to put down some disconnected commentary instead.


In Storm of Swords, the midden finally starts to hit the windmill. As even more perspective characters are introduced to the mix and few of the existing ones ever seem to get it in the neck, the cast of narrators seems to be mushrooming. 

In fact, one useful predictor of a character's survival rate, as far as I can tell, is whether they are a perspective narrator in a non-prologue scene. Ned was obviously a dead man walking from the moment he got introduced, but otherwise, I think Cat is the only perspective character to kick it, and she doesn't even manage to stay dead.


I will say that I expected both Cat and Rob to die, Rob because he's as pig-headed and stupid and unsympathetic as Renly and Cat because she took an old warrior-mentor role and you can't do that and stay alive.

I absolutely did not expect her resurrection. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does next.

(show spoiler)

Probably the most significant new perspective is that of Jaime. Sadly, not even a certain amount of retconning can make me like him.


Perhaps surprisingly, I find Brienne to be the most problematic major character. She is clearly inspired by Eowyn, and she exacerbates some of the more problematic traits of her template. It is clear throughout that although Brienne is an extremely skilled fighter, she is characterized more by her failures than her strengths. She is, as Martin reminds us constantly, ugly and ungainly, essentially "unwomanly." In fact, he makes a point of this by having other characters challenge her role as knight, telling her that women should be in the bedchamber. This isn't even internally consistent, as women march with Rob and others as a matter of course. Brienne was a knight because of her desperate puppy love for a man that she could never woo. Most of her identity comes from what she fails to be, not what she is. She is portrayed as broken, a complete misfit either as a "womanly" woman or as the man she seeks to be. This discomfort can be contrasted with a rather large set of confident, badass fighting women, from Arya Stark to the Mormonts to the various other fighting women of the world.


In other news, Varys is still my favourite character, but now I finally understand what he is trying to do. I think Arya's storyline is probably the most interesting one at present.


I was glad to see some of the more annoying characters finally kick the bucket, but as the narrative proceeded, I began to realize why I don't find these books particularly troubling or emotionally disturbing. Sure, there's technically a high death count, but the easily-identifiable major players seem almost invulnerable. This sense is reinforced by the way that they all keep fortuitously running into one another. Most of the perspective characters are nobles and are thus removed from the hardships of everyday life and the horror of battle. Most of the violence happens at a distance, with other characters carrying reports to one another. In general, we learn only who won or lost; we don't see the terrible tragedies of the battle itself. In this way, the story truly becomes a game of thrones, the tragedies of war kept at a safe remove. Even the characters don't often remember about the plight of the "little folk."

The best example of this comes when Tyrion and Tywin fight about the Red Wedding. Tywin argues that it is better that a few people die at a dinner rather than a multitude on a battlefield, apparently forgetting that all of Rob's men were slaughtered as well.

(show spoiler)

In other news, I've been simultaneously been reading a history of the Plantagenets, and I must say that it felt quite similar to ASoIaF from the random breakup of kingdoms and the pitched battles over thrones to various betrayals and intrigues. The only major difference, as far as I can see, is the Plantagenets' tendency to cry "consanguinity" when they need divorces as compared to Martin's strong preference for straight-up incest. I suppose there's also the conspicuous absence of Others, even though the Welsh slot in nicely as the wildlings.


One last thought: I listened to this on audio, and the narrator is really beginning to grate on me. I liked him at first, but his accents are getting more and more outrageous and more and more terrible, and he can't keep them straight. People switch from one gawdawful accent to another in the space of a paragraph. One mystery was solved, however: I know how one obtains that truly atrocious Welsh accent he keeps foisting upon Tyrion: be a Lannister and a perspective character. Even though he was Received in the last two books, Jaime has suddenly become argh-terrible-Welsh as well. Tywin somehow ended up sounding like Churchill.


On to the next one...