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There is no better way to pretend the sun is not baking the whole lot of us than to read the third book in George R.R. Martin’s monstrous masterpiece, assuming you’ve read the first two. Reading these out of order is a crime punishable by bear pit, by the way.

Where to begin when you’re still in Song of Ice and Fire withdrawal? Devouring the 1100+ page third book may not be the best idea if you live in a city, or aspire to get work done. I find myself walking around in a stupor, looking the wrong way when crossing a one-way street because I can’t stop wondering why they didn’t see it coming and how very satisfying the epilogue. And what I would give for a peek at Martin’s desk while he writes. I’d even bring my evil giggle.

There are spoilers ahead. Unlike those who refuse to read the books, but are more than happy to watch the HBO series and spew spoilers all over the internets (my sister), I don’t wish to ruin the terror and pure joy of reading these books for YOU. So go play in the sprinklers or blend yourself something boozy frosty while trying to come up with one good reason not to read this series – other than the length. You’re not afraid of a few thousand pages, right?

Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

It’s so tempting to call it in and tell you Storm of Swords is beyond really good and you should read it. The end. But some books get into your system. Once you finish they stay there until you give them the attention they deserve. Reading this book was like going to the movies and actually being so blown away that you don’t notice weirdos answering their phones and kicking your chair. Finishing it is like remaining there while the credits roll and you can’t understand where everyone is going. The characters are so real the end feels more like them leaving you than you them. The sense of place is so strong you want to crawl inside Martin’s head and live there, maybe pick up a sword and fight with Jon Snow.

So far, Storm of Swords is the best book in the series, and that’s saying a lot because Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings left wounds. I’d show them to you, but reading scars are camera shy.

Why is this the best book yet? Martin gets his hands dirtier than dirty. In Game of Thrones it’s clear who the good guys and bad guys are – good guys have long hair, bad guys have short hair, kind of. Now the lines are blurry and some of the good guys prove themselves short-sighted at best while some of the bad guys are so clever that it hurts not to root for them. And almost everyone has unkempt hair.

Clash of Kings ends with the Battle of Blackwater, where Sandor Clegane lost his stomach and Tyrion Lannister lost most of his nose. The big loss makes Stannis question his mysterious red woman and her Lord of Light’s prophecies, but the reader knows better than to question. With three dragons born and growing stronger each day, an army of undead marching south toward the 700 foot wall of spells and ice, and an outlaw leader, Beric Dondarrion, who’s died a handful of times and is referred to as the Lightning Lord for his sword of fire – magic is clearly loose in this world. But is it all dark?

One of the driving forces behind each of the hundred story lines is that, aside from the incested (“incested” is not a word, but should be) boy king, no one is physically where they need or want to be and all but a few are willfully ignorant to the almost unkillable dangers stalking their way. Old debts are paid and politics, aptly referred to throughout as “the game of thrones” is layered over conflicting notions of religion, women’s (lack of) rights, and the supernatural in a way that renders this world as complex as our our own.

The gods give each of us our little gifts and talents, and it is meant for us to use them, my aunt always says. Any act can be a prayer, if done as well as we are able.

In order to claim her rightful crown and rule the Seven Kingdoms, the young Daenerys Targaryen’s must build an army and learn how to be a queen. She knows she will be betrayed three times. She doesn’t know that the many kings in the Seven Kingdoms are already busy doing much of the warring without her. What will be left when she gets there, if she ever gets there?

After escaping Roose Bolton’s men at Harrenhal, Arya is finally within running distance of mom and brother, King Robb, the King of the North without a castle. The good news is that her handler, Clegane, intends to ransom her to them. The bad news is that Martin is a man who does very bad things. And why didn’t they see it coming?

Next to Arya and Tyrion, Jon is still my favorite character. Now he’ torn between his sudden love for the wildling Ygritte who adores him right back, and his black brothers who he swore an oath to. He makes the only choice he can and inadvertently positions himself at the center of the kings’ war.

Bran is on foot with Hodor, Meera and Jojen. They’re heading north of the wall into the heart of the coming darkness. On the way, he’s learning more about what it means to be a warg, to have the ability to enter others’ minds, including animals.

Sometimes storm winds blow so strong a man has no choice but to furl his sails. -Davos

It’s hard to know disasters are coming and not be able to warn anyone. But everyone must play the deformed hands they’re dealt as best they can. It’s only Stannis, at the advising of his Hand, Davos, who realizes he must first save the kingdom to win the war.

Now it’s on to Feast for Crows fast before HBO unleashes the spoilers once more. This Bran quote helps me see how some can re-read their favorite books over and over again. This is the first seasons I can see myself re-reading in a few years.

Old stories are like old friends … You have to visit them from time to time.

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