This is a masterpiece that displays very few of the weaknesses of its predecessors. I think books one and two provided one of the longest literary expositions I've ever encountered, but the drama, transformation and sheer momentum of the third book pays for all. Not only are there several shocking and unexpected moments that speak to Martin's ability as a storyteller, but there is subtlety in spades as well. One doesn't get the impression from this series that the deaths of characters are intended solely for shock value, or to provide a plot twist, but that they're simply "right" - logical extensions of the story and are events that are retrospectively bound to happen. Martin has a reputation for not telegraphing these literary blows, and he definitely lives up to that in this book again and again and again before it finally lets up.
Most of my problems with the previous books tended to center around nauseating over-repetition of "clever" lines and ridiculously elaborate and excruciating details of what's for dinner and I'm sad to say that those problems persist in this volume. I don't blame Martin especially for this flaw, but the man needs some better editors. 98% of the 1000+ page narration is damn fine without a word wasted this time around though, which is an improvement over the past, but at one point I swore that if Ygritte said "You know nothing Jon Snow," one more time I'd throw my Kindle out the window. It's a testament to how absolutely fantastic this book is that in spite of that feeling, and in spite of her saying it at least another 32098423 times, I kept reading. This tale is an 1177 page thrill ride that can compete with even more judiciously edited taut thrillers. It grips your brain, your heart and your soul and leaves you breathless in the end. The feeling is welcome. I don't think I've enjoyed anything else I've read nearly so much since I wrapped up the last book of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller series over Winter break.Swords
drags you through such a wide range of emotions you forget you're reading fantasy. There are several epic battle moments that you know have been coming and the series is tottering into the overall direction that I thought it would, especially with the development of the Melissandre and Stannis arc, into something much greater than a squabble over an island throne. Don't get me wrong though, that squabble is vicious, cruel and spectacle to behold. The characterization matches the plot development stroke for stroke and I too have to say that I really, really like Jaime Lannister. Martin made me feel terrible for rooting for someone's imprisonment and death based on nothing more than a couple of known facts. As the character develops through his own POV narration he's humanized and as appalling as some of the things the Kingslayer has done or said, you begin to question if you'd do different in his position. That speaks volumes when you consider the character is an attempted child-killing regicide with the hots for his twin sister. Meanwhile, Tyrion's narrative definitely shows us that there's only so much abuse a man can take and the corrosive nature of such abuse on even the best of men with the best intentions. Besides these two, I think Dany finally begins to steal the stage. Her development from wide-eyed queen thrust into a world of barbarians into a Abraham Lincoln with pet dragons has been fascinating. The short of it is, these are very real
people that you realize sometime in this volume that you've become extraordinarily attached to in a love-hate way that fluctuates about as much as it does in real life with real people you may know.
I grew a little impatient and disappointed with the Arya arc. I think that's the one that should be exploding and has great potential to take center stage in a huge revenge-justice arc, but I'm eager to be on with it! I imagined her as this avenging angel dealing retributive justice as a full-grown woman, but after the events of this novel.... I'm not sure. I'm also digging how slowly Martin deals out the actual sorcery in this epic. It's not used excessively or absurdly to protect the main characters from harm. In fact, much of it isn't even really important to the central drive of events, but when it pops up here and there, you can't help but feel as giddy as Jeff Albertson at Comicon and Anime Expo (that's Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons for all you noobs). It's cool and I like that it's not a crutch. The focus is on the people, where it should be.
Read it. Love it. I'm nervous from all the reviews I've read suggesting this is about as good as the series gets - but getting to the end of this one makes the previous 3000 pages worth it.