A Storm of Swords: Booke Three of a Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (New York: Bantam Books, 2000. 1216 pp)

George R. R. Martin is an American author and screenwriter of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Born in New Jersey, Martin earned a B.S. and M.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University. He began writing fiction in the early 1970s with his first works earning him a Hugo and Nebula award. In the 1980s, he began writing in Hollywood for the Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. Martin is best known for his critically acclaimed epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which was developed into Game of Thrones, an HBO television series.

*Spoiler Alert for Previous Books in Effect throughout Review*

Marriage is what brings us together today.

Does marriage cure all ailments? Seemingly, popular sentiments include the idea tying the knot as a binding principle over sensible living.

Perhaps it alleviates relational strife? “Sure, we have our troubles but it’s because there’s no commitment. If we were married, we’d work harder to make this relationship work.

Maybe it’s a personal change? “I realize I keep making the same mistakes, but holy matrimony would give me ample reason to stop.”

Even in the olden days, marriage held political importance. “If our son marries their daughter, surely they won’t attack our lands.”

Marriage, among other principles, becomes another game in George R. R. Martin’s world elaborated in his third installment, A Storm of Swords.

More War, Everywhere

A Storm of Swords continues the narratives of the previous books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Westeros remains in the throes of the War of the Five Kings with Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, Joffrey Baratheon, and Stannis Baratheon skirmishing in attempts to gain the crown.

Beyond the Wall, an immense host marches on the Seven Kingdoms under the watchful eye of Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall. With Westeros caught in civil war, the rag-tag crew comprising the Night’s Watch is the only obstacle keeping the wildlings at bay.

Lastly, Daenerys Targaryen continues her pursuit of an army while her dragons grow strong, resilient, and worthy of battle.

Danger is everywhere in George R. R. Martin’s world and it remains unrelenting in A Storm of Swords.

Marriage and Meaning in Westeros

For me, the most interesting aspect of A Storm of Swords surrounded George R. R. Martin’s descriptions of marriage.

In his first two iterations of this series, Martin spends an inordinate amount of time developing the “game” of A Game of Thrones. There’s a central tenet of dualism between privileged and poor, powerful and weak. While the many wars of Westeros twist and turn, the ordinary citizens remain in vassalage working, fighting, and dying without much of a thought from the elite.

Even when the economy forces many into devastating famines, the Lords and Ladies continue to play. In A Storm of Swords, the game is marriage. With the deaths of integral characters such as Eddard Stark leaving voids in leadership and the desires to strengthen alliances between families, the nobility unties as man and wife quite often.

On one side, the characters have faith in the institution. Who would put a sword to flesh and blood? On the other side, a marriage is a quick way to another title—another form of power.

With marriage comes festival and ritual, a further development to the mythology of this world. Yet in the end, marriage is another pawn in this game played between families.

Everyone’s favorite Lannister, Tyrion sums it up well:

It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and their before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance in our steads” (796).

Every Wedding Needs a Priest

Religion plays an intriguing role in A Storm of Swords. Introduced in A Clash of Kings, the religion around R’hllor, the red god, develops further in this tome. While the people of Westeros already have a divided religion—between the seven gods of the South and the old gods found in the weirwood tree in the North, R’hllor is a foreign god orbiting around opposite notions of good and evil.

“’The way the world is made. The truth is all around you, plain to behold. The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope. One is black, the other white. There is ice and there is fire. Hate and love. Bitter and sweet. Male and female. Pain and pleasure. Winter and summer. Evil and good.’ She took a step toward him. ‘Death and life. Everywhere, opposites. Everywhere, the war” (288).

As the game of thrones wages in Westeros and beyond, there seems to be a spiritual battle taking place between these competing beliefs, much like the wars of religion we see, both physically and intellectually.

A Storm of Swords further expands on the shocking narratives George R. R. Martin has created in his Song of Ice and Fire series. If it wasn’t clear in his previous iterations, no character is safe in this dangerous world. The elite of Westeros continue to play their games, and everyone is still suffering in the wake of their wars. No sacred marriage can withstand the lust, greed, and sense of honor in these characters; thus, marriage is just another game of thrones. Go read this series. It’s worth the commitment!

Verdict: 5 out of 5

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