Jun. 9th, 2013

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A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some time ago there was a television interview with a literary critic who was asked if any current authors were "our Charles Dickens". The point of the question was that Charles Dickens was a populist writer in his time and many didn't think his work would be of interest to the future. The interviewee went on to speculate if Jackie Collins or Stephen King were the new Charles Dickens - their work to survive the centuries while more lauded writers fell into obscurity. I don't know if George R.R. Martin could be our Charles Dickens, but he's certainly a better story teller than Collins or King.

It didn't dawn on me until this third book in his "A Song of Ice and Fire" series how Shakespearean he is. Perhaps not in poetic terms, but definitely in his themes and in the exploration of his characters' motivations and inner worlds. Sansa has something of Ophelia, Tyrian could be Falstaff if he was a little taller, Cersei channels Lady Macbeth very well, and so on. Unlike most fantasy worlds, including J. R. R. Tolkien's, Martin has reinforced in this novel that he's not afraid to kill off characters we hold dearly, or to offer redemption for those we'd written off as evil and immoral. But Martin is no James Joyce, though he's as wordy: his novels are long, classic page turners that stick to the tried-and-trusted structure of suspense through escalating conflicts and reversal of fortunes, culminating in climaxes that leave you itching for the next book in the series.

Like Dickens, his twisted and deformed characters are well thought out creations that rise above the narrative and stay with you, sometimes in mind-troubling ways. It's impressive what a giant cast he has created and expanded here, spread out across many continents, and how he moves them without giving away his larger vision for the series. His world is more magical here than in the previous two books, explained before as a result of the appearance of three hatched dragons and, potentially, a red comet in the sky. It's also gorier.

As with the two preceding books, there are certain twists to the novel that take the reader by surprise and throw into doubt where exactly Martin is taking the whole narrative. The twist that recently got everyone upset with the TV series caused in me insomnia and a bad night of sleep (that will teach me not to read his novels before bed time.) I do wonder what the future will make of his work. Are they popular because they say something about our world today? Do we crave something more explicit and gory in our entertainment, like the Romans before us? Are we allowing ourselves to explore more taboos in fiction? Do we see our world as chaotic as the one these characters live in, and their struggle to make sense reflects somehow our own struggles? Is that where the pleasure in reading these books comes from?

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