The review contains potential spoilers from previous books of the 'Song Of Ice and Fire' series.
After my stellar experience with Martin's ptevious two books (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings) of the 'Song of Ice and Fire' series, I was expecting even more from the third book. Unlike the previous two books, the answer isn't a outright yes this time.
Official Summary :
Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King’s Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world.... But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others--a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords. . .
Continuing the complex stories, nay lives (the people feel that real), of our many colorful characters, among the first things that struck me was how much less 'A Storm Of Swords' was a sequel to 'A Clash of Kings' and more of a continuation to the series. Let me clarify, A Game Of Thrones had a very definite wrap for almost every character and Eddard Stark's death was the catalyst for the events of the second book. The second and third books don't have a similar major event to differentiate between them. Martin originally intended the series to be a trilogy, and its evident by the feeling of togetherness you get when you read the second and third books.
Talking of 'real' characters, Martin masterfully continues to build and add layers to the various inhabitants of Westeros. The biggest addition to the narrative and characters is that of Jaime Lannister, a major figure whom and whose actions we had seen from the viewpoint of other characters till now and accordingly formed opinions accordingly. In 'A Storm Of Swords' , we finally get to see the elder Lannister son's persepective on the affairs of the kingdom and beyond. And boom like that, Jaime changed from one of the definite bad characters to a grey one. If you have read Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, then you might be reminded of the talk between Oromis and Eragon about Urgals, about right just being a matter of where you stand. Its like I stated earlier, the folks of Westeros feel like actual persons, nobody is the paragon of goodness nor the daughter of the devil.
While the inclusion of Jaime Lannister's POV impressed me a lot, I have mixed feelings about the expansion of the books becuase it has led to a definite slowdown in the pace which was a huge pro for the earlier books. A few of Catelyn Tully's chapter could easily have been trimmed off and so could some Bran Stark's. In fact, Bran's story and character went through the least amount of development in the book and all the times I put down the book was during his POV chapters. On the other side of the Narrow Sea, the Targaryen heir's story continues to be my favorite arc, dragon and all. Tyrion and Jon tie for the second spot, though I am more intersted to see what happens next to Tyrion and Arya Stark in the next part thanks to the unexpected climaxes of their stories in 'A Storm Of Swords'. A particularly visceral scene, halfway through the book, called 'The Red Wedding' will surely haunt you. Martin's writing talent reaches another high during this unforgettable episode of Robb Stark's.
Bottom Line : Long-time fans of the series have no choice but to take their dose of George R.R. Martin's drug but even new readers will find the next installment of 'A Storm Of Swords' an engaging read.