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September 7, 2013

Book Review || A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin

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Like most of South Africa, I had never heard of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series until the HBO television series Game of Thrones. After the first season premiered, I decided to read the novels. A Storm of Swords is the third book in the series, and I like the books more than I like the television series.

This is not to say that the HBO series is not good - it's very entertaining, but in comparison to the books, there's just so much more detail, and you get so much closer to the characters. Another difference is that the television series seems to be obsessed with sex. Sure, there is sex in the books, but the scale of it is not so large. Let me put it this way: sex seems to be the drawcard for the TV series. It's why people watched it without knowing anything about the books. All the sex and nudity in the first few episodes was enough to have people hooked, because now everyone is hoping for those scenes again.

In the books, it is not just the men who derive pleasure from their sexual desires; on television, the women are giving more than they are taking - usually. (Except for that odd scene where Bronn and Tyrion are discussing Podric's supposed prowess with the prostitutes he had been gifted. This scene is not in the books, and I don't see how it fits in in the series).

I digress into the popular culture of it all, but what is really fascinating and intriguing to me is how they are altering the storylines of the books slightly for the series. There are several characters that we never meet (Bolton's bastard, for instance) and we never hear the history of others (such as Aemon of the Night's Watch being a Targaryen). There is also a lot of history we miss out on in the TV series - the back-stories of Petyr Littlefinger, Brandon and Eddard Stark, Daenerys Stormborn, Sandor and Gregor Clegane, the different religions, the different houses and where they stand in the story (you learn in the books that the Freys have always been jealous of the Tullys, which makes everything fall in place - that is why Lord Frey took Robb's slight so seriously) - I think the television series is missing this height of detail, and that is why the third season seemed so slow until the Red Wedding.

On to the book at hand: it must be because the plot is thickening and secrets are being unveiled that I enjoyed this book so much. There are also the unexpected deaths (I really did not see Joffrey's death coming - not in the least, and the battle between Gregor Clegane and the Red Viper literally had me biting my lips - I actually gasped when Clegane got the best of Prince Oberyn at the last minute. I really wanted Oberyn to be the victor :( Also, Littlefinger killing Lysa: I did not see that coming either! And poor Ygritte!), edge-of-your seat battles (the battle for the Wall was amazing), and twists and turns that surprise you absolutely (Joffrey being the one who wanted to kill Bran?! Lysa being the one who poisoned John Arryn?! Shae testifying against Tyrion!? Tyrion killing his father!?)

Martin is certainly an excellent writer. I love how his language and style changes from character to character. When you're with Sansa, the phrases and descriptions are so feminine and poetic. Her sister Arya is more tomboyish, and her vocabulary isn't as flowery. There's a weariness to Jon's chapters, a wisdom in Tyrion's, and absolute arrogance in Jaime's, even though he's not nearly the man he was. Daenerys still feels like a little girl.

The Red Wedding was not as dramatic in the book as it was on television. I think the screenwriters aimed for this event to be a climax to the anti-climax of the end of the season, since they've split this book into two. I'm not really certain they should have split the book in two - the story is compelling enough to make everyone decide to pick up the books in between seasons just to see what happens. Although the small changes in the television series might end up changing the direction of the story entirely - making it all completely new. I wonder what Martin would think of that.

The ending has me contemplating jumping into the fourth book right away. (How is Catelyn alive? Is she alive? Is she a wight?) So many questions! I have two more books to read. George RR Martin - you'll have to start writing faster!

(Image credit: Facebook\GameofThrones)

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