The highly anticipated third volume in Martin’s best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series closes the first "movement" of the series. With the series brought just shy of the halfway point, and only three novels left to go, many expected a certain amount of firm closure on many of the major plot threads. Instead what they got were more twists and turns than can be enumerated. Being veterans of the major discussion boards for the series, we can testify to the fact that very few of the sudden turnarounds and revelations were predicted by the dedicated fan base, even when (or especially when?) Martin had laid out plenty of clues. In hindsight several of the revelations led to the thundering sound of many hands slapping foreheads. Unsurprisingly, most fans wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
That said, A Storm of Swords is the grimmest, darkest, grittiest of the three novels, and also the largest. It starts more slowly than A Clash of Kings except for the prologue, which this time is nearly as harrowing as the opening prologue to A Game of Thrones, and for some characters the chapters seem to largely involve moving from one location to another. Some readers will find this annoying, boring, or senseless, but under careful scrutiny one can see that there’s a certain pattern to the movements. For example, at a pair of points in the novel, characters who have just gone through many and strange adventures come within moments of coming into contact with one another, to possibly joyous or catastrophic results. But Martin doesn’t play such games of coincidental meetings and keeps them apart, usually ignorant of who they’ve just missed. It can be frustrating, but that’s just the point - all this need for speed and secrecy is frustrating to the characters as well.
Martin does much the same with minute decisions leading to disasters or to victories without the characters being even slightly aware of the future importance of their actions. This sense of fate being balanced on the edge of a sword, the slightest shift able to topple thrones and destroy armies, makes the work exhilarating even as Martin again takes time to lay down pieces that will be of increasing important in the future. Magic seems to be growing even more vivid, to the point where bringing back the dead (with grave and even terrible costs) starts to become a tool in the coming war.
Coming war, you may ask? Hasn’t there been a war raging the last two books? Oh yes - but it’s not the first, it’s not the last, and it’s far from the greatest. The author is skilled at interweaving the major and minor struggles, and the foreshadowing of future struggles, through the whole narrative. Tantalising hints as to what may come are dropped, and new mysteries are made. Daenerys’s story picks up pace, and is not the least of the shocking narratives. And Tyrion’s must be read to be believed. And this doesn’t even mention the events beyond the Wall, or the remarkable new POV character whose story unfolds to reveal a history and a layered, bruised personality that was hinted at but always hidden in the murk.
If you liked or loved the previous two novels, A Storm of Swords will certainly satisfy you even as it leaves you in tears for the great injustices and the little mercies that bring poignancy to the tale.