Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords is probably my favorite of all the A Song of Ice and Fire books that I’ve read. All of my favorite characters get their moments of glory, and so many climactic battles and events occur that the plot moves at a breakneck pace. I could talk endlessly about how influential and powerful events such as the Red Wedding and Mance Rayder’s attack on the Wall are on the overarching story. I could go off on exhaustive explanations and assessments of each great House’s power, influence, and general progress in the “Game of Thrones”. But, being me, I find the travails and complexity of the characters to be of the most interest.

Of them, I want to focus on the character of Oberyn Martell. While the amount of ‘screentime’ he gets would qualify him as a minor/secondary character, he nonetheless is one of my favorites of the entire series.
House Martell

Throughout the series up to this point, the reader knows that there are seven kingdoms in Westeros. All but one quickly become embroiled in the continental war that erupts. All but one: the kingdom of Dorne to the south. Of Dorne, all we know is that it is a land comparable to our North Africa or Middle East; it is a region sun-baked, containing the only deserts in Westeros, and full of a people as hot-blooded as the heavy heat perpetually shining down upon them. For reasons largely unknown to the reader, Dorne remains neutral for the majority of the series, choosing to stay put and watch events unfold. They align themselves with the Lannisters only when a royal marriage is made between their Houses. Yet, even then, their agenda remains hidden.

For, unlike any other House at this point, they do not commit any troops to support the side they claim to ally with. Instead they send Oberyn Martell to represent their nation before the court at King’s Landing.
The Red Viper

What makes Oberyn Martell such a memorable character is that he is the very first character we see of this kingdom, and his very presence serves to upset the political balance that many of the other Houses have striven to maintain. It is a bit complicated to explain, but sending Oberyn is equivalent to political dynamite; not only is he a controversial figure, but he has a history with one of the other Houses (the Tyrells) that immediately causes tensions to skyrocket when he arrives. Adding fuel to the fire is Oberyn’s incredibly forceful, dangerous, and mocking personality. He is fully aware of the stress he causes and he revels in it.

It is hard to convey how impressive and earthshaking it was to read of Oberyn’s arrival and the ramifications of his visit to King’s Landing. Where everyone else is busily scurrying about, playing political games, and trying to come out on top in the “Game of Thrones”, Oberyn comes out of nowhere with a supremely arrogant confidence and acts like he owns the place. Nobody else knows precisely what he will do or why he’s even there, and this only serves to add to his legend and mystique.
Prince of Dorne

The crowning moment of his influence to the series is his decision to serve as Tyrion’s champion in a duel with Ser Gregor Clegane, in an effort to avenge his sister’s death in a previous war. It is worth noting that, at this point in the series, the multi-faction war seems to be drawing to a close with the Lannisters victorious. The Starks are leaderless and scattered. The Tullys and Baratheons are drained of power and on the ropes. Everyone else seems aligned with the Lannisters. But when Oberyn dies, it seems clear that the war is not over. Everyone fears that the Martells will commit to one of the opposing factions and renew bloody war once more.

Though his time in the series is short, the superb writing and thought that went into The Red Viper’s character made him an incredibly compelling character for me. His decision to defend Tyrion for his own devices, his efforts to mess with the political balance of King’s Landing, and his epic duel with Gregor Clegane were insanely awesome. And the ramifications of his actions will likely influence the series for many books to come (I’ll have to keep an eye on this as I keep reading).

The one downside for me, however, is that, after Oberyn Martell, the introduction of other characters from the kingdom of Dorne will undoubtedly seem subdued and uninteresting by comparison. Showing the reader such an immensely charismatic and dominating heavy hitter from the start has the effect of making those who follow seem lessened. But time will tell; I still have two more books to go before I have to wait for George RR Martin to write more!

1 comment:

  1. I just read past the Frey/Tully wedding. Although I knew what was to happen, I still felt quite shocked and saddened that it did happen, and in such a cruel way...

    I will keep an eye on Oberyn Martell after reading this.