George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire (Bantam Spectra, 2000)
"All men are fools, if truth be told, but the ones in motley are more amusing than ones with crowns." Or so Lady Olenna Tyrell tells Sansa Stark. Lady Olenna, the aged matron of House Tyrell, is just one of several new characters introduced in A Storm Of Swords, Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire. Fiercely opinionated, physically unassuming, and known as the Queen of Thorns for her prickly nature, Lady Olenna provides something of a ray of hope for Sansa Stark, still a captive of the Lannisters.
Sansa's troubles seem small compared to the rest of House Stark's survivors. At the wall, Jon struggles to repair his reputation with the Night Watch while fending off the largest assault by wildings against the wall in recorded history. And Bran, beyond the wall, might someday wield the power of a greenseer and a warg, should he survive the wild long enough to find the three-eyed crow in his dreams. Arya learns just how honorable knights actually are once the battles are over and their regiments are broken. And Catelyn, their mother, tries to repair the tenuous alliance between her son Robb and Walder Frey's House.
This book is much more than the saga of the House of Stark. Continuing what appears to be a trend of dropping one character in favor of another from book to book, George Martin replaces Theon Greyjoy from A Clash of Kings with Jaime Lannister, deepening the exploration of the politics and infighting in House Lannister; and his development of Jaime Lannister is nothing short of startling. Struggling to cope with the loss of his sword hand, Jaime begins re-evaluating his worth, and a gradual transformation not only makes for compelling reading, but illustrates important psychological truths. Tyrion Lannister, though he saved King's Landing from Stannis in A Clash Of Kings, is now demonized and ridiculed throughout the city. His tragic disfigurement during the battle of King's Landing, his father's displeasure, and his nephew the king's cruel jokes at his expense are slowly pushing him over the edge of sanity.
Meanwhile, far to the east of Westeros, Daenerys Targaryen becomes the source of unshakeable adoration in the eyes of the people she has freed from the slavers. Intelligent and compassionate, her decision to be a ruler rather than a conqueror illustrates just how seriously she takes her destiny to reclaim the Iron Throne. Lastly, Ser Davos, a man of honor, tries to balance his devotion to King Stannis with his personal religious convictions.
Yet a neatly woven plot and moving character development is only half the equation that makes the A Song of Ice and Fire series so powerful. From little details of the importance of singers to the religious infighting among King Stannis' inner court, George Martin crafts a reality as solid and as detailed as anything anyone else has written in any genre, ever. With several plots and treasonous conspiracies first set in motion during A Game of Thrones coming to a bloody and unexpected fruition during the final three hundred pages, waiting for Book Four, A Feast of Crows, becomes a truly frustrating experience.
Fortunately, not only is there a comic adaption of the novella The Hedge Knight currently on the shelves, there is also a collectible card game, official artwork, and a healthy internet presence to pass the time until A Feast of Crows finally hits the shelves.
A Song of Ice and Fire has a Webring here. Go here for the collectible card game, and here for officially sanctioned artwork.