I find it hard to talk about the Song of Ice and Fire series because there is so much that happens in each one of them. I could have reviewed the first two by now, but I didn’t know where to begin. I’m going to assume you have read them already, however, and this might contain some plot spoilers.
It must be said that George R. R. Martin’s writing style is uniquely drawing. There’s something almost jarring about how he changes narrators after each chapter. But the jarring isn’t bad; if anything, it makes the story that much better. Half the time I found myself hoping that the next chapter would be about Bran or Daenarys or Arya or someone else. It kept me going through the less interesting characters. I found it built the suspense. Some authors will give you play for play in chronological order and will end a chapter on a moment of suspense, but I only know Martin to jump to another seemingly unrelated character right after the suspense is built. Half the time it seems as though we hear about the result of the suspense through a minor character, wandering and spreading news of the realm. It’s different and I like it.
The story begins where where A Clash of Kings ends. Jon Snow has joined the Wildlings, four of the five kings remain in Westeros, the battle for King’s Landing has ended, the Starks are trying to make their way home, and Daenarys continues to seek out an army and a fleet to reclaim her birthright.
I’ve found myself equally interested in each story, but in different ways. For example, I’m very curious to see where the story at the Wall is going, but not always interested in how it gets there. I feel like Jon Snow has a lot of growing up to do. He certainly has the potential to lead men just as his older brother Robb has been doing, but he hasn’t been given the opportunity. Having recently joined up with the Wildlings, we hear about their seemingly uneventful trek to the wall. Most of the time is filled with Jon beneath his furs with the Wildling girl, Ygritte. But once Jon breaks free and makes it back to the wall, things get interesting. We see him put into the role we’ve been hearing about since the first book. He has acting command of the Wall because all other senior leaders have left to defend elsewhere. He does a great job at it too.
Then there’s the story of King’s Landing where Sansa is stuck in the hands of the Lannisters. I’ve always felt like Sansa is a naive girl. She never seems to understand the games being played around her. For the longest time I was bored reading her chapters. I found my mind wandering elsewhere in Westeros. But slowly, as her plot finally begins to develop after two and a half books, I start to get interested. When she’s forced to marry Tyrion I’m hooked on her story, even if she still seems naive. It’s her linking to an interesting character which made her interesting. I kept catching myself wondering if she’d ever come to love her husband who treated her as best as he could, given the circumstances of their marriage.
Tyrion, as always, makes for one of the best characters in the story. He’s constantly thinking and using his mind but letting his mouth get in the way of things. He truly has a brilliant mind, but at times it becomes clear how little he knows because we find ourselves doubting just as much as he does. Even after he played the battle of King’s Landing to his nephew’s favor, he’s treated as an outcast. The boom chain in the harbor was his idea and where other men faltered, he led the charge against the surrounding army. He wakes from his wounds to find himself stripped of his title and left to die in a corner of the castle. But somehow he works his way back into power, only to have it pulled out from beneath his feet when Joffrey dies. Tyrion and Sansa are suspected of murdering the king. Sansa manages an escape, which was arranged ahead of time, but Tyrion is left to be imprisoned. His trial is no more than a farce.
Back in the North, Bran continues to search for the three-eyed crow to teach him to fly. His travel companions include Jojen and Meera Reed and the dimwit Hoder. They slowly make their way towards the Wall in hopes of finding someone beyond to help Bran learn to fly. Already we have passages where Bran reaches out to Summer, his direwolf, and at one point he even reaches into Hoder briefly. He’s learning to be a warg and his close bond with his direwolf helps him. If only the other Starks shared his skill to the depth at which he does. The last we see of Bran comes relatively far from the end of the book when he finds passage under the Wall with the help of Samwell Tarly, a Brother of the Nightwatch.
Catelyn Stark is the mother we had to deal with in The Song of Ice and Fire in that she’s the only mother whose viewpoint we get through this book. In A Game of Thrones I felt like the books were about great men and kings being controlled by their mothers. Cersei controls Joffrey on the Iron Throne and through him rules Westeros. Lysa Arryn is overly protective of her infant of a nine year old Robert and protects him from the world by keeping all strangers at bay of the Eerie. And then there’s Catelyn Stark who only wants her children back together. She counsels Robb in the war, but it’s in a very directed and controlling manner. We see her goals in her advice. She even goes as far as releasing Jaime Lannister in exchange for Sansa and Arya to be released. She fears not of the wrath of her son Robb Stark, King in the North. I was relieved, though shocked, when she was finally silenced.
Robb continues his war but finds that he must put his campaigns on hold to attend to matters closer to home. He needs to win Winterfell back so he gather’s his army at Riverrun where his grandfather is lord. However, he is a king of only sixteen and boys make mistakes. He goes against his pledge to Walder Frey to marry one of Frey’s daughters, in an effort to protect the honor of a girl he bedded. Initially, Frey is outraged but he eventually offers a peace through marriage. Chaos ensues.
Arya, who once had such a promising story, spends much of the book changing hands between captors. She even comes close to being returned to her family. It seemed to me that every other Arya chapter he was going in opposite directions. I got tired of it. Towards the end, however, things started to get exciting. She even took a few names off her list of people she’d like to see dead. I bet that explains why the following novel is shorter than this one.
One thing I really have been pining for since the first book is for Arya to be reunited with her direwolf Nymeria. She seems to be the closest to reaching out to her wolf like Bran does, but nothing ever comes of it. I think these animals need to be near their human counterparts for the sake of the story. I’m kept wondering if they’ll ever be reunited.
Finally, Daenarys. Ever since the dragons hatched, Dany has become one of the most interesting stories. I find myself at odds with myself over who should control Westeros. Dany has the birthright and the dragons but from the beginning we were led onto the side of the Starks. Dany, in the beginning, wasn’t more than a young girl. In the time since, however, she’s been married to a Khal, seen him die. Lost a son in childbirth but hatched three dragons. She now leads her free people across the land, searching for a way to get home.
At the point in the story where Dany decides that she must stay in her most recent city she liberated, I find myself leaning ever more towards her cause. She says that she needs to learn to rule a city before she can rule a kingdom. She’s forming herself into quite the monarch. However, I see one major problem with her ruling Westeros; it’s been promised that she’ll be barren the rest of her life. What’s a kingdom without an heir? It would leave the realm in as much chaos as it is now, when she dies.
Mush of her time is also spent wondering when they second and third betrayal will come. She was promised three betrayals; one for blood, one for gold and one for love. I won’t say how but it’s agreed that Dany was betrayed for gold in this book.
All of these events culminate in the end of the book. Jon, Sansa, Arya and Catelyn all are witness (or pieces) to major events in the story.
This book was a massive tome but I managed my way through it. At times, the story dragged on and I was left wondering how each part would benefit the whole. I should have learned my lesson by now and I should have faith in Martin. We should trust that he knows what he’s doing.
There were many parts where my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe the events that happened. I couldn’t believe who met who or who killed who. I think it surprises me all the more when things happen because I first got into the series through television. As I read, I imagine the seasons down the line where characters are going to be killed off. How could major players be forced out of a show? But then again, we saw it in the first book/season with Eddard Stark. It’s what makes the books so great. You can’t trust what you already assume about stories. People will die and it doesn’t matter who they are in life. It’s the game of thrones.