A Storm of Swords: Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire
By George R.R. Martin
Rather than pick up where he left off with volume 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin starts with action concurrent with the final events of A Clash of Kings.
Caitlyn Stark makes a desperate move to gain the freedom of her daughters, releasing Jaime Lannister from his captivity, entrusting him to her new aide de camp, Brienne. She orders Brienne to return him to King’s Landing and offer him in exchange for Sansa and Arya who she still believes to be held in King’s Landing.
Brienne and Jaime are at first adversaries as Jaime pokes fun at her looks and refuses to call her by her name. But when they are waylaid by a group of mercenaries known as the Brave Companions, that adversarial relationship develops into one of grudging mutual respect. The leader of the Companions cuts off Jaime’s sword hand, hoping their employer, Roose Bolton will be blamed and the Lannisters will seek revenge on Bolton, putting him in power.
Jaime Lannister is released by the Brave Companions, but Brienne is thrown into a pit and left to fight a bear with a tournament sword. Remembering that Brienne fought at his side against the Brave Companions, Jaime returns to save her. They continue to King’s Landing where Brienne learns that Arya has been gone for a long time and Sansa has disappeared during the king’s wedding. Jaime releases her to find Sansa.
Things go badly for Robb Stark. He loses the loyalty of one house after another and battles start to go badly for him. His most critical error is marrying Jayne Westerling of a minor family, violating his betrothal to one of Walder Frey’s daughters. Robb, Catelyn, and the forces of the north travel to Frey’s estate to pay their respects, hoping to smooth over relations. Things go quite badly for the Starks there as Robb and Catelyn are ambushed and slain during a feast.
Arya Stark continues to hop from one frying pan into another fire. While trying to work her way to Riverrun and her family, Arya encounters one of her father’s former knights in an inn. Unfortunately, they are no longer loyal to the family Stark and take her captive, hoping to ransom her since the north is now in chaos and the Starks no longer hold sway. However, this group of sellswords encounters Sandor Clegane, a former guard of King Joffrey’s whom Arya hates. The Hound, as he’s known for his unique helmet, slays the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners and takes Arya. He plans to head north with her to ransom her back to her mother. They follow the trail to The Twins where Walder Frey resides, only to find the chaos of battle and the remnants of Stark’s army being slaughtered. The Hound is confident he now has custody of an orphan and has no idea what to do with her. But, being the only card he has to play at the moment, he keeps her.
The situation at King’s Landing has grown incredibly political. After his bravery in the fight against the army of Stannis Baratheon, Tyrion Lannister is deposed as Hand of the King by his father, Tywin who has taken up residence in the castle and plans to advise his grandson. Tyrion is decidedly out of power as he recovers from his disfiguring wound.
Jaime returns and, at first, his twin and lover, Cersei is excited to see him. They make love on the spot. However, relations between them soon grow cold. Jaime is made head of the Gold Cloaks – the King’s guard, but is not respected because he fights poorly without his right hand.
Tywin and Cersei decide that a betrothal of young King Joffrey to Sansa Stark no longer makes sense as the Starks are all but eliminated. He is instead betrothed to Margaery Tyrell, whose family came to the aid of King’s Landing when Stannis attacked. A wedding date is set. In a fit of pique, Cersei decides to wed Sansa to Tyrion which makes neither happy – much to Cersei’s delight.
Sansa and Tyrion are married, but Tyrion refuses to bed her. Sansa continues to play the dutiful Lannister loyalist, but Tyrion is smart enough to know differently. He has enough honor not to bed a woman against her will. He continues his dalliances with his mistress, Shea and leaves Sansa in peace. Sansa still harbors the hope of escape from King’s Landing.
Word reaches King’s Landing of the fall of Balon Greyjoy from one of his own banners, leaving a vacuum of leadership in his realm being fought over by his son and daughter. The North will soon be in the hands of the Freys and the small council learns that Tywin Lannister concocted the scheme to murder Robb and Caitlyn Stark. Tyrion sees this as pennywise and pound foolish since the north will never succumb to the leadership of Walder Frey.
The day of the King’s wedding arrives and it is a huge, 77 course feast. Tyrion attends with Sansa. Sansa sits quietly and dutifully. Tyrion gets slowly drunk and starts making fun of his nephew the King. Joffrey comes to Tyrion’s table and demands that Tyrion fill his glass with wine. Tyrion pours the wine and Joffrey soon begins to choke. As Cersei, Margaery, and others look on in horror, Joffrey chokes to death.
Cersei has Tyrion arrested for the crime. In the chaos, Sansa escapes the castle and meets her liberator, a drunken, disgraced knight reduced to a fool. He takes her to Peter Baelysh who puts her aboard a ship. “Littlefinger” as he’s known, is a former lover of her mother’s and plans to take her to the Eyrie and wed Catelyn’s sister, Lyssa Arren and unite his new realm of Harrenhall with the Eyrie. They set sail.
Tyrion is imprisoned. While the evidence is gathered against him, his father offers him the opportunity to confess then, take the black and head for The Wall. Tyrion refuses. AS he did when imprisoned in the Eyrie, he demands trial by battle. He hears several people testify against him, including his lover, Shea before he demands the trial by battle. He recruits Lord Oberyll Martell of Dorne to fight for him. Martell is smart, quick and fights with a spear. He must defeat Gregor Clegane, the largest man in the realm, known as “The Moutain.”
Tyrion holds out little hope. However, Martell’s plan to wear out the big man seems to work as Clegane flails vainly for hours, trying to fell the faster Martell. But, in the end, a mortally wounded Clegane stabs Martell and kills him, leaving Tyrion to die.
However, Jaime, figuring out that his brother was not responsible for poisoning Joffrey, having learned that it was Peter Baelysh, releases Tyrion and allows him to escape. Before Tyrion departs, Jaime tells him that the young woman Tyrion married years before was not a whore as his father had him believed, but the daughter of a common laborer. Furious, Tyrion swears vengeance upon all of the Lannisters.
He makes his way to the chamber of the King’s Hand and finds his father in bed with Shea. Tyrion kills Shea. Tyrion taunts his dimunitive son, not seeing him as a serious threat. Tyrion shoots him with a crossbow bolt, ending the life of the patriarch of the kingdom’s most powerful family.
After his defeat at King’s Landing, Stannis Baratheon retreats to Dragonstone to rebuild his army and ponder his options. The Red Priestess would have him sacrifice a bastard born son to bring to life the stone dragon in the realm. The ritual is performed.
In the North, Jon Snow has joined Mance Rayder’s people as they travel south to attack the wall. Despite his oath of celibacy, he falls for the girl whose life he spared. He and Ygritte have sex repeatedly. Rayder’s troops continue their search for the Horn of Winter which will destroy The Wall. They continue south.
The rest of the raiders from the wall head south toward home. They stop at the Craster hold as they did before, but rebellion breaks out and Craster is killed. There, the group is attacked by The Others, a mythical wight. Sam Tarly the fat keeper of the rookery, manages to slay one of the wights using an obsidian dagger he found. He rescues one of Craster’s daughters who is pregnant and heads north through a storm, hoping to make it to the wall before they freeze to death. Unfortunately, in the battle, the Lord Commander is killed and most of the leadership of the Watch is killed.
Tarly and his woman make it back to Castle Black alive and Tarly becomes an unlikely hero.
Jon Snow manages to escape from Rayder’s people and make his way back to the Wall and Castle Black where he assumes leadership in the defense of the top of the wall. Thousands of Rayder’s troops throw themselves at the wall and each attack is beat back. As the fighting continues, Janos Slynt and Ser Alliser, two members of the Watch who resent Snow’s high birth, decide to put him on trial for treason. He is imprisoned. Finally the pair decide to send Jon Snow out to kill Mance Rayder.
Jon ventures out and finds Rayder’s tent. Rayder has the Horn, but doesn’t want to destroy the Wall with it because he doesn’t want the wights to follow him south. As they parley, Stannis army arrives by sea and attacks Rayder’s troops, wiping them out and killing Mance Rayder. Snow talks to Stannis who says that he felt as the true King, he needed to come north and defend his lands which were under attack. His red priestess fears that the wights are The Others and disciples of the enemy of her god. She wants the wall maintained to keep them at bay.
Stannis, admiring Snow’s cunning and bravery, offers to make him Lord of Winterfell in exchange for his loyalty. However, Jon is elected the Lord Commander of the Night Watch, much to the chagrin of Janos Slynt and Ser Alliser. Jon is left in charge of The Wall.
Meanwhile, Bran Stark, still believed dead by most, is also making his way north. He is having dreams of a three eyed crow and is searching for the beast. In the company of Jojen and Meera Reed, two young people from the marshlands of the north, he makes his way to Castle Black where he meets Sam Tarly and they are taken into the castle. Bran does not know his half brother has been elected lord commander.
In the east, Daenyrus Targaryn is learning the art of leadership and sets out to build a proper army. Her efforts are complicated by the sexual advances of her retainer Ser Jorah Mormont. She later learns that Mormont was spying on her for Robert Baratheon. Mormont swears that his loyalty to Robert ended a long time before the attempt on her life. She banishes him for his betrayal.
She comes ashore at Slavers Bay and purchases an army of automatons who will fight and kill without remorse or question. With the cornerstone of her army in place, she advances on two cities and takes them, releasing the city’s slaves. Many of the slaves join Dany’s forces and her army and power continue to grow. She adopts one of Robert Baratheon’s former Kingsguard as her new military aide and plans to advance to retake her kingdom. Meanwhile her dragons continue to grow in size and power.
In the epilogue of the book, some of Walder Frey’s men are on patrol when they come across the Brotherhood Without Banners. They are taken captive and brought before Catelyn Stark – she who died and whose nude body was unceremoniously tossed into the river. Catelyn does not speak, she simply nods and the Frey men are doomed.
Martin injected political chaos into his story in book three and early assumptions of who would win and lose were blown out of the water. Little Tommen sits on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing under the guidance of Cersei and Jaime. But Tywin’s death leaves a major leadership vacuum. The Lannisters, who looked omnipotent at the end of book two are in definite trouble.
Robb Stark looked to be quite formidable as well. He had yet to lose a battle and his hold on the River area was unchallenged, even though he’d lost his homelands in the north. But miscalculating in marriage doomed the Stark family. Now, only little Bran and baby Rickon remain of the male lineage. Sansa is trapped and beholden to the tender mercies of her scheming aunt. Arya is still wandering about the countryside.
I’d written off Stannis Baratheon after his defeat at King’s Landing. But he’s reestablished himself at The Wall and looks to mount an offensive from the north, much as Robb did earlier. Dany continues her slow, methodical march toward power. The Greyjoys look as if they are no longer players.
When I started this series, I was told to expect the unexpected; that no character – no matter how major or important – was safe. That warning was apt. The most endearing part of this series is Martin’s willingness to keep the reader on his heels with unexpected deaths.
Martin’s development of Arya and Tyrion continues to make them the most interesting characters in the book. Perhaps Martin will unexpectedly wipe them out. But I expect, with all that Martin has invested in creating complexity in them that does not exist in other characters, they will be major players as the series comes to a head.
I expect further development of Sansa as well. Removed from King’s Landing, she no longer has to be the dutiful loyalist mumbling platitudes. Sansa is due major development in book four.
The epilogue injects a whole new element into the story. The second book introduced the dragons which brought a fantastical element that was absent from the first book. Now, with Catelyn Stark being resurrected as an apparent zombie or some form of undead creature, a new element of fantasy has been introduced. It will be interesting to see if her undead state is in any way linked to the Others.
As to which direction the battle for the throne of Westeros will take, I’ll not hazard a guess at this point. Dany remains the wildcard with her dragons. Stannis is reinvigorated. Other players are gathering forces and creating alliances to challenge for the throne. With four more books to go, there is still plenty of story to be told.