Officially the fourth in the presumed seven of the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series, this book was originally intended to be one with its sequel, A Dance with Dragons. Due to its sheer length, the manuscript was split into two books along mostly geographical lines rather than the perhaps more obvious chronological split. This was kind of problematic for me, as I really missed certain favourite characters here. There was also a sudden shift to bring in a number of storylines set in Dorne, which until now hadn’t really made an appearance. This felt to me like Martin was running out of characters, after the high body count in the previous books.
The chapters here are told from the perspectives of Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Samwell Tarly (though not at the Wall), Aeron Greyjoy (Theon’s uncle), Asha Greyjoy (Theon’s sister – called Yara in the HBO series), Victarion Greyjoy (another uncle), Areo Hotah (Captain of the Guard in Dorne), Arys Oakheart (the Kingsguard who went to Dorne with Princess Myrcella) and Arianne Martell (heir to the Dorne throne). You can see that the emphasis here really is on Dorne and the Iron Islands.
One thing I did particularly like was the introduction of another religion. The Iron Islanders worship the Drowned God, and the traditional baptism is actually to be drowned in salt water and then resuscitated. Those are some hardcore believers, right there. Cersei Lannister’s story is also more interesting here than in previous novels – she has finally consolidated power and is effectively ruling Westeros herself through her son, only she’s not actually very good at it. All her scheming and grasping to gain power has basically led her to a position where she constantly suspects everyone around her. The saddest thing is that she has no awareness that she simply does not have the political savvy of her father or brother Tyrion. Even though she now has Jaime back, she simply cannot accept him maimed and even his support is lost to her. Littlefinger has the other really interesting storyline here – this man knows how to play the long game! Compared to what we’ve seen in the show, his machinations run a lot deeper and his ambitions are much greater than you may have suspected.
This is probably my least favourite of the series so far, but I did still race through it.