This post contains no spoilers for A Storm of Swords but assumes you've read the first two books in the series.
In the land of the Seven Kingdoms, the fight for the Iron Throne involves cunning, treachery, strength, honor, luck, and the help of the gods. A Storm of Swords, the third installment of George R. R. Martin's epic A Song of Fire and Ice series, recounts the continuing battle--both bloody and political--for ultimate power over the country.
One of the hallmarks of great fantasy is the creation of a complex, internally consistent, and believable world that hints of deep history and an uncertain future. Now inhabit that world with multidimensional characters who learn, grow, change, make mistakes, and do what they must to survive, and you begin to understand why Martin has garnered a large and faithful fan base.
No one is safe in the struggle for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Whether a ruling house stands together in solidarity or is divided against itself, all suffer losses in both people and property. While some families concentrate their attention on the battlefield, they are undermined by the conniving schemes of the wannabes. Everyone is mindful of relatives who are held hostage by various enemies, but few pay attention to the armies of Wildlings and Others, whose invasions from the north must be stopped by the politically neutral brothers of the Night Watch and the great wall of ice and snow. And from across the sea the young mother of dragons, daughter of the last Targaryen ruler, and widow of the great Khal Drogo is coming into her maturity and has turned her eye on her father's Iron Throne.
There is no less action on the individual level, and few people are left unaffected by the war. Deaths, political marriages, and unlikely alliances are to be expected, but what is less predictable is the changes in personalities. Some people have an inner strength (sometimes aided by money and power) to stay steady, remaining honorable and brave or redoubling their cruelty when it serves them best. Others, however, lose their spunk or become depressed, surprise themselves by their acts of kindness or bravery, or begin to question their most basic beliefs.
Be warned: Martin has created a realistic world in which no one is safe, and there is no obvious final outcome. The medieval-like Seven Kingdoms is not an easy place to live, and the reader is not shielded from its harshness. In addition, although there are fantasy elements to the series, this is not a story of magic wands and flying broomsticks; it's more firmly planted in the world of humans. And finally, once one enters the world of the game of thrones, he or she is in it for the duration; it's near impossible not to become invested in the saga.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Random House Audio, 47 hr, 37 min), read by Roy Dotrice, who continues to do an excellent job with the series.
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