Is George R.R. Martin for real? Can a fantasy epic actually get better
with each new installment? Fans of the genre have glumly come to expect go-nowhere sequels from other authors, so we're entitled to pinch ourselves over Martin's tightly crafted Song of Ice and Fire series. The reports are all true: this series is the real deal, and Martin deserves his crown as the rightful king of the epic. A Game of Thrones
got things off to a rock-solid start, A Clash of Kings
only exceeded expectations, but it's the Storm of Swords
hat trick that cements Martin's rep as the most praiseworthy fantasy author to come along since that other R.R.
Like the first two books, A Storm of Swords could coast on the fundamentals: deftly detailed characters, convincing voices and dialogue, a robust back-story, and a satisfyingly unpredictable plot. But it's Martin's consistently bold choices that set the series apart. Every character is fair game for the headman's axe (sometimes literally), and not only do the good guys regularly lose out to the bad guys, you're never exactly sure who you should be cheering for in the first place.
Storm is full of admirable intricacies. Events that you thought Martin was setting up solidly for the first two books are exposed as complex feints; the field quickly narrows after the Battle of the Blackwater and once again, anything goes. Robb tries desperately to hold the North together, Jon returns from the wildling lands with a torn heart, Bran continues his quest for the three-eyed crow beyond the Wall, Catelyn struggles to save her fragile family, Arya becomes ever more wolflike in her wanderings, Daenerys comes into her own, and Joffrey's cruel rule from King's Landing continues, making even his fellow Lannisters uneasy. Martin tests all the major characters in A Storm of Swords: some fail the trial, while others--like Martin himself--seem to only get stronger. --Paul Hughes
The third volume of his six-volume fantasy epic "A Song of Ice and Fire", "A Storm of Swords" continues Martin's vigorous account of the civil wars which follow the death of King Robert--the usurper who deposed a dynasty gone mad and dangerous--and the judicial murder by his widow and heir of Ned Stark, the man who made him king. The surviving Stark children are scattered--Robb leading a revolt in the North; Arya learning hard lessons as she treks through the war zone; Sansa an observer of court intrigue; crippled Bran heading towards a sorcerous destiny; and Jon engaged in desperate defence of the ice-wall against barbarians and worse things. Daenerys, pretender and ruler of dragons, is building an empire elsewhere. Meanwhile, characters we have thought of as villains, notably Jaime Kingslayer, are developing belated consciences. Martin keeps on upping the ante of violence and betrayal in this compelling saga of a fantasy middle ages soiled with blood and mud; his economic use of magic and his fascination with complex characters make this the sword-and-sorcery series for people with adult taste. As the series proceeds, his writing gets ever leaner and sharper, the evocation of the magical ever more sinister. --Ros Kaveney