Saturday, January 21, 2006

BOOK REVIEW - A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords
George R.R. Martin
1128 pages
Bantam Spectra, 2003

As a good friend once said, “Ho. Le. Mo. Lee. No, I’m no talking about my Vietnamese friend.” One-thousand one-hundred and twenty-eight pages. Make that more pages down in the epic Song of Ice and Fire which George R.R. Martin began in A Game of Thrones and continued in A Clash of Kings. No matter how you slice it that’s a whole lot of reading. A Storm of Swords continues the chronicle of what is being called the War of the Five Kings, a rather messy war of succession set on the island of Westeros. In order to avoid spoiling the plot for anyone who takes up the challenge of reading these books, I will not share any more of the plot. Besides, any attempt to convey the events in this book would require so much background information in order to make sense, attempting to convey plot details would be just plain foolishness.

This book did not rouse in me passionate feelings one way or the other. I liked the book, but I feel no driving need to write extensively about it, so I apologize if this book review is bereft of much book review. I feel more compelled to write about the structure of the book rather than its contents.

Instead of concentrating on one or two main characters, Martin has decided to tell the tale through the eyes of no less than ten main characters. It may be more, this count was just a quick list off the top of my head. While Martin succeeds where many who use this device fail, that is, his transitions from character to character are generally smooth and logical, the main drawback of using so many characters still exists. This is the fact that there are so many different voices that the reader has to hear, it can get very confusing, particularly when you add in the cast of hundreds of supporting characters who wend their way through the story. Fortunately the book includes an appendix which lists all the characters and weighs in at just over forty pages long. For some reason this brings to mind the character charts that came out in the newspapers when Twin Peaks was being broadcast. Gah, that showed my age.

This complexity leads to my main problem with the series. I am over three thousand pages into this epic and, while the cast of characters is slowly shrinking, there is no end in sight. Tolkien told his tale in 1216 pages. Tolstoy in 1408. I am starting to get the feeling that Martin may have lost control of this story and that his readers are in for a task of Jordanian proportions (to coin a phrase) if they want to get the whole story. Adding to this fear is the fact that there was a five year gap between the publication of A Storm of Swords and the next book in the series, A Feast for Crows. That’s a long time.

Now, having said all those negative things about the structure of the story, it is important to keep in mind that Martin has created a world which engrosses me and characters I care about. Characters I want to see triumph over the obstacles placed in their way. I have no doubt that this series is destined to endure to become one of the classics of fantasy literature, and thus A Feast for Crows is next up, with the preview, “…with new viewpoints…”

Damn you Martin.

1 comment:

Abram said...

I've loved the entire series. FfC, though, well, is like the previous books, only... more so...

Keep in mind as you read it, it was intended to be half of a book twice as long. Dance with Dragons will be the other half. Apparently as he was writing it, he decided to split it into two to get one half of it out earlier. Of course, that means Dance with Dragons is already mostly done. I think it's expected out (at this point) in late 2006 or early 2007. One never knows though.