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A Storm of Swords Part 2: Blood and Gold by George R R Martin

There’s just no way of getting around it. This is the fourth (second half of book three?) book in an on-going series and there will likely be something akin to mild spoilers beyond this point. At least I expect there will be, what with George R.R. Martin’s penchant for killing characters off and whatnot. As ever, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Fear cuts deeper than swords.

 The Starks are scattered. Robb Stark may be King in the North, but he must bend to the will of the old tyrant Walder Frey if he is to hold his crown. And while his youngest sister, Ayra, has escaped the clutches of the depraved Cersei Lannister and her son, the capricious boy-king Joffrey, Sansa Stark remains their captive, trapped in marriage with Joffrey’s deformed uncle, the embittered dwarf Tyrion. Meanwhile, across the ocean, Daenerys Stormborn, last heir of the Dragin King, delivers death to the slave-trading cities of Astapor and Yunaki as she approaches Westeros with vengeance in her heart.

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun. Has it really been a year already? For those that don’t know, I am attempting to read each book from A Song of Ice and Fire just before each new season of Game of Thrones appears on television. There has been a bit of an overlap here and there, but so far this plan has been sort of working, for the most part anyway. 

In Blood and Gold, Westeros remains splintered into many different factions. The kingdom is still up for grabs and each group is trying hard to grab as much power as they can. It seems only right and proper that such an epic saga has an ever-growing cast of characters. All my favourites are still around in one form or another. Various Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, Freys and Baratheons all pop up at one point. I love the way that Martin manages to keep up the interest in so many individual perspectives and points of view.

An admission here; I’ve found that as the series has progressed, my attention has started to waver from the Starks. The Lannisters have become the highlight of the books for me. They’re an utterly fascinating group, their family dynamic is so spectacularly dark and twisted, I love it.   

Four books in, and a thought struck me about Mr. Martin’s writing. I finally figured out why some many enjoy his particular brand of epic storytelling. When it comes to characters Martin excels, much better than any other, in creating real grotesques. Some of the denizens of Westeros are just so utterly loathsome by our standards *cough* Walder Frey, King Joffrey, The Hound *cough*. You certainly wouldn’t want to meet any of these lovely folks, but there is little denying that they are a joy to read about. I don’t think violent, cruel, twisted and evil can ever be bad when it comes to fantasy mainstays.

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this very review, George R.R. Martin has gained a bit of a reputation for dispatching characters in this series of books. I now know where this idea has sprung from. Blood and Gold will go down in history as the book where everybody dies. Okay, maybe not quite everybody, but certainly quite a few. The most surprising thing though, over and above who actually dies, is the nature of how they shuffle off this mortal coil. Often shocking, and in one memorable circumstance, darkly comic, Martin uses the faux medieval setting of his books to remind us that life is the most fragile of things. I suppose I should have picked up on this aspect of story before, especially when I spotted reference to an old man being described as being over forty years old* The mortality rate in Westeros must be pretty high if forty is considered heading into old age. 

I’ve said it before and there is pretty good chance that I’ll say it again, if you’re watching Game of Thrones and you’ve not read the books, you’re really missing a trick. I’ve reached the stage now where the two different mediums feel like they are inextricably linked with one another. As a series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire continues to delight and shock in equal measure. Half way through the series and a whole host of valuable lessons continue to be learned, the most important being, in Westeros, it is best to avoid any and all royal wedding invitations if at all possible.

Martin has pulled it out of the bag yet again. This is peerless fiction that blends together all the best in politics, power plays, intrigue and action. Yes, things get a little over the top from time to time, but this is epic fantasy and it seems only right and proper that things get properly fantastical. I’ve always been worried that committing to such a large series of large books would inevitably result in me getting bored at some point. I’m pleased to say that, thus far, there has been no evidence of that at all. Damn you Martin! Damn your black heart. I promised I was done with massive sprawling multi-book sagas but you’ve made me care about reading epic fantasy again!

A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold is published by Voyager and is available now. Reading this book has made me all the more excited about viewing season four of Game of Thrones which begins in the UK on the 7th April. Tune in roughly the same time next year for A Feast of Crows! 

*checks calendar, sighs heavily.

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