A Storm of Swords is the third of seven planned novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, an epic fantasy series by American author George R. R. Martin. It was first published on 8 August 2000 in the United Kingdom, with a United States edition following in November 2000. Its publication was preceded by a novella called Path of the Dragon, which collects some of the Daenerys Targaryen chapters from the novel into a single book.
To date, A Storm of Swords is the longest novel in the series. It was so long that in the UK its paperback edition was split in half, Part 1 being published as Steel and Snow in June 2001 (with the one-volume cover) and Part 2 as Blood and Gold in August 2001 (with a specially-commissioned new cover). In France, the decision was made to cut the novel into four separate editions.
A Storm of Swords won the 2001 Locus Award and 2002 Geffen Award for Best Novel and was nominated for the 2002 Nebula Award for Best Novel. Significantly, it was the first novel in the series to be nominated for the Hugo Award, one of the two most prestigious awards in science fiction and fantasy publishing, although it lost to JK Rowling's novel Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Meisha Merlin, who had previously issued limited, illustrated editions of both A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, were planning to release a similar version for A Storm of Swords in two volumes. However, lengthy delays on the release of A Clash of Kings caused Meisha Merlin to lose the printing rights for the book, which were picked up by Subterranean Press instead. This edition, fully illustrated by Charles Vess, was released in the summer of 2006.
A Storm of Swords picks up the story slightly before A Clash of Kings ended. The Seven Kingdoms are still in the grip of the War of the Five Kings, with Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon and the late Renly Baratheon fighting to secure their crowns. Stannis Baratheon's attempt to take King's Landing has been defeated by the new alliance between House Lannister (backing Joffrey) and House Tyrell, and House Martell has also pledged its support to the Lannisters though the forces of Dorne have yet to take the field. Meanwhile, a large host of wildlings is marching on the Wall under Mance Rayder, with only the tiny force of the Night's Watch in its path; and in the distant east, Daenerys Targaryen is on her way back to Pentos in the hope of raising forces to retake the Iron Throne.
The novel begins in the final months of 299 After the Landing and carries on into the year 300 AL.
Robb's army returns to Riverrun in triumph, having smashed several Lannister forces in the Westerlands and won great victories. However, Robb is furious with his uncle Edmure: Robb's plan was for Tywin to come west and into a trap Robb was preparing, but Edmure's over-zealous defense of Riverrun spoiled the surprise. Catelyn is horrified when Robb reveals that he has married Jeyne Westerling of the Crag, violating his oath of betrothal to House Frey and thus losing their support. This is further aggrivated by the fact that the garrison Robb had left behind in the Twins(Frey castle) to ensure their loyalty was withdrawn by Edmure to fight in the Riverlands. Robb claims he had no choice: Jeyne 'comforted' him after he learned of the burning of Winterfell and the deaths of Bran and Rickon. The King in the North is in dire straits: his forces are dwindling due to the loss of the Freys as well as the Karstarks, whose lord Rickard murders two Lannister POWs and is executed as a traitor, not to mention a botched attack on Duskendale ordered by Roose Bolton; the force of foot, led by Robett Glover, is caught between Lord Randyll Tarly and Ser Gregor Clegane, leading to the slaughter of a third of Robb's strength. He cannot retreat for more men, as the Greyjoys now hold his home territory. Nevertheless, Robb has a new plan to outflank and take Moat Cailin (via the marshlands surrounding it) from the Greyjoys and allow them to return to the North. Unfortunately, the Riverlords will have to fight on for themselves. Catelyn agrees to this plan, but it hinges on winning the support of the Freys once more, which they are now unlikely to give. Robb is angry that Catelyn let Jaime go, but cunningly uses her guilt at this in order to get her to approve of his marriage to Jeyne Westerling. Not long after this, Lord Hoster Tully finally dies and Edmure becomes Lord of Riverrun.
Arya Stark and her friends encounter a group of men known as the Brotherhood Without Banners, led by Lord Beric Dondarrion and the red priest Thoros of Myr. Beric's group was originally sent out by Lord Eddard to put down the Lannister raids, but have evolved into a Robin Hood-esque organization, defending the smallfolk of the war-torn Riverlands. The group encounters Sandor Clegane, Joffrey's former bodyguard who fled the Battle of the Blackwater, and offer him trial by battle, which he wins (killing Lord Beric) and is set free. To Arya's amazement, Thoros is able to resurrect Beric using what he calls a gift from R'hllor. Arya eventually tires of following the Brotherhood and tries to break free, but is captured by Sandor Clegane instead. Clegane decides to take her back to her family in exchange for some kind of service, and they head north.
Robb Stark's host, now reinforced by Lord Roose Bolton's army from Harrenhal, reaches The Twins, where Robb parleys with Lord Walder Frey. Frey agrees to forgive Robb on the condition that Lord Edmure Tully weds one of Frey's daughters in Robb's place. Edmure's new bride, Roslin, turns out to be an attractive and gentle woman, which surprises Catelyn: the "late Lord Walder" is known for his tetchiness, and could easily have forced Edmure to marry a lackwit or an ugly girl instead. The wedding celebration is held and a great party takes place afterwards, though the food and musicians are described as being terrible. This is forced into perspective when they begin playing "The Rains of Castamere", a song celebrating Tywin Lannister's eradication of an unfaithful vassal, produce crossbows and fire into the Stark supporters. The Boltons and Freys, armed and armored, cut down many of the Stark bannermen present, killing Dacey Mormont and Smalljon Umber among them. Catelyn takes one of Walder Frey's grandsons, the halfwit Aegon, hostage with a knife, and threatens to kill him should Robb be harmed, but a man wearing the colours of House Bolton cuts Robb down anyway, saying "Jaime Lannister sends his regards." Catelyn kills her hostage, but in turn is restrained and her throat cut. Many of the northern lords are either killed or taken prisoner, but there are two missing: Robb had sent Lady Maege Mormont and Lord Galbart Glover to win the allegiance of Lord Howland Reed of Greywater Watch for their planned attack on Moat Cailin since only the crannogmen know how to navigate through the swamp.
Arya and Sandor are in the outskirts of the castle when the "Red Wedding" takes place, and though Arya attempts to enter the castle and rescue her mother, Sandor knocks her unconscious with an axe and takes her downriver. Arya then has a dream in which she is actually her long-missing direwolf, Nymeria, who now leads a huge pack of wolves in the Riverlands. In the dream, Nymeria finds the corpse of a woman floating in the Green Fork south of the Twins and pulls it ashore, only to flee as a group of men approach. After this, Arya gives up on her mother, tells The Hound that, in her dream, Catelyn was dead. This is not the first time Arya has had this dream though the other instances are less important.
Arya and Sandor run afoul of some of Gregor Clegane's men in an inn, the Tickler and Polliver along with a squire. There is a fight and the freeriders (two of whom are on Arya's list) are killed, but Sandor is wounded. His wound is infected and Arya refuses to give him the gift of mercy and leaves him dying under a tree and goes to the nearby port town of Saltpans, on the Trident. She finds a ship from the Free City of Braavos there, but they refuse to take her north. She pulls out the coin Jaqen H'ghar gave her and the ship crew suddenly become more cooperative. They won't take her north, but they will take her back to Braavos with them. She agrees.
King's Landing is rejoicing for their deliverance from the threat of Stannis Baratheon and the Tyrells are welcomed as liberators. King Joffrey agrees to set aside his betrothal to Sansa Stark, daughter of a House attainted of treason, and promises to marry Lady Margaery Tyrell instead. Sansa's freedom is short-lived, however, as she is soon forced to marry Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion was badly injured in the battle, losing his nose and suffering other wounds to his face, but he treats Sansa gently and refuses to consummate the marriage against her will. Tyrion himself is unimpressed with the turn of events, particularly as his father has taken up his role as Hand, reducing Tyrion to an advisory role, although he is later made master of coin to replace Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (who has been named Lord of Harrenhal for his role in securing the Lannister-Tyrell alliance). Balon Greyjoy, styling himself King of the Iron Islands and the North, sends an offer of an alliance to Tywin, but Tywin spurns it, as he has another plan that does not involve selling off half the realm. He also comments that he should not pay for what the Greyjoys are already doing for free, that is fighting the Starks.
On Dragonstone Davos meets Edric Storm, one of King Robert's many bastards whom Stannis is keeping safe from the Lannisters. Davos is horrified to learn that Melisandre wants to sacrifice Edric and his royal blood to her fires to awaken the 'stone dragons,' which she thinks are the great statues that guard the castle. Stannis rejects this decision and instead gives some of his blood to the fires instead, naming the names of three men that he wants dead: Balon Greyjoy, Joffrey Baratheon and Robb Stark. (Chronologically, this happens shortly before the Red Wedding.)
Littlefinger, fresh from his diplomatic victory in gaining the alliance of the Tyrells and the titular Lord of Harrenhal, departs King's Landing for the Eyrie with a new scheme: to woo Lady Lysa Arryn into marriage and support of King Joffrey. Tyrion is suspicious of Littlefinger's growing power but is no longer in a position to stop him.
Word reaches King's Landing of the death of King Robb Stark at the Red Wedding, closely followed by news that King Balon Greyjoy has died as well, swept over a bridge in Pyke by a strong wave. Joffrey is exultant, particularly keen on the gory detail that Robb's direwolf's head was sewn on his body, and Catelyn's body was hurled naked into the Green Fork. Margaery and Joffrey's wedding is held, but Joffrey spends more time tormenting his uncle Tyrion than paying attention to his wife. Suddenly Joffrey starts choking and dies in a fit on the floor. Tyrion suspects poison and inspects Joffrey's goblet before realizing he could be blamed for the crime. He throws the goblet away, but is seen by several witnesses. His sister Cersei has him arrested and put on trial. Sansa Stark is smuggled out of the castle by Ser Dontos, whom she still believes will put her on a ship home. Instead, she discovers that he has sold her to Littlefinger, who plans to take her to Eyrie with him. Littlefinger also admits to being the mastermind behind Joffrey's death.
Davos Seaworth learns to read and write. One of the letters he receives is from the Night's Watch, who sent missives to all the kings begging for aid against Mance Rayder and the wights. The success of Melisandre's spell has convinced Stannis to sacrifice Edric Storm to the flames to wake the dragons, but Davos smuggles Edric to safety. Stannis prepares to execute Davos for treason, but Davos is allowed to read the letter that lately arrived from the Wall. The news stuns Stannis and, more importantly, Melisandre.
Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth reach King's Landing to find the situation volatile. Joffrey's brother Tommen has inherited the throne but is not yet crowned, Tyrion is on trial, and the Tyrell bannermen blame Brienne for King Renly's death, particularly Renly's close friend Ser Loras Tyrell. She is thrown in a dungeon. Jaime takes up the rank of Lord Commander of the Kingsguard and finds that his journey and the loss of his hand has made him more willing to fulfil his duties. He refuses his father when he offers to remove him from the Kingsguard and make him heir to Casterly Rock, and refuses to believe Cersei's claims that Tyrion killed Joffrey. He rejects her advances, deciding to remain true to his vows.
Tyrion is seemingly doomed, as his sister Cersei, convinced of his guilt, has recruited many to give evidence against him, including Varys (master of whisperers, equivalent of the head of intelligence) and Shae (Tyrion's whore). Lord Oberyn Martell of Dorne, who is in the city representing his brother Prince Doran, harbors a desire for vengeance against Gregor Clegane, who killed and raped his sister Elia (the late wife of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen) and her children during the Sack of King's Landing. However, Tyrion is approached by Lord Oberyn Martell, who offers to fight for him in a trial of combat against Cersei's champion, who they both know will be Ser Gergor Clegane, "the Mountain that Rides". The battle is fought and Oberyn apparently emerges victorious after knocking the giant Gregor down with a poisoned spear. Unfortunately, he spends too much time gloating and Gregor kills him. Tyrion is condemned to death, but escapes with the help of Jaime and Varys. On his way out of the castle, Jaime reveals that Tyrion's first wife had not been a prostitute, as their father had told him, but had actually been a crofter's daughter as she appeared. Tyrion sees this as unforgivable betrayal from both his father and his brother; he swears vengeance against both, and carries out the former by stopping at his father's chamber and shooting him with a crossbow.
Jaime frees Brienne from imprisonment after persuading Loras to reconsider, giving her the sword Lord Tywin had reforged out of Eddard Stark's Valyrian steel blade (since after being maimed by Vargo Hoat, is much worse at fighting so the blade is wasted on him). He tells her to fulfil the oath he gave to Lady Catelyn, to find Arya and Sansa and return them home. He also tells her that the real reason he betrayed his oath and murdered King Aerys was because Aerys had hidden wildfire barrels all over King's Landing and planned to destroy the city during the Sack. He carried out his most infamous act to save the innocent, not that anyone would believe him. Brienne departs on her quest.
At the Eyrie, Sansa lives in fear of her increasingly psychotic aunt, who eventually goes mad and tries to kill her after she sees Littlefinger kiss her(for which she blames Sansa, not Littlefinger). Littlefinger saves Sansa by throwing Lysa out of the 'moon door' of the Eyrie to her death hundreds of feet below and blaming Lysa's minstrel for the crime. However, before he does this, Lysa reveals that Littlefinger told her to poison Jon Arryn and blame the Lannisters.
In the epilogue, Merrett Frey goes to a parley with a group from the Brotherhood Without Banners, who have taken one of his brothers "Petyr Pimple" captive and are demanding a ransom. During the parley the Brothers reveal that they have executed the other Frey. They point out to the panicking Merrett that he was at the Red Wedding and helped in the murder of the guests. He demands that they prove it by providing a witness. In response a battered figure appears and points at him. Merrett Frey is hanged next to the corpses of his family, whilst the broken form of Catelyn Stark watches, and hates.
Jon Snow is taken to Mance Rayder and is able to convince him that he has truly turned his cloak. He learns that the fabled Others have returned and are driving the wildlings south towards the Wall. Mance has been seeking the legendary Horn of Winter which will shatter the Wall when sounded, but has been unable to find it. Jon is unsure of this story. Eventually, Jon is sent south on a mission to scale the Wall, circle around, and attack Castle Black from the south to allow the wildlings through the gates. Jon instead flees from the wildlings and reaches Castle Black to warn them of the threat. He learns that Bowen Marsh has taken the most of the remainding garrison with him as he attempts to repel wildling attacks all along the Wall(that are really feints). With many of the other Watch members dead or missing, Jon is forced to command a skeleton defense along with villagers fleeing from Mole Town against the wildlings, but nevertheless defeats them. Among the dead is Ygritte, who had been Jon's lover for a time.
Bran Stark and Jojen and Meera Reed, fleeing the ruins of Winterfell, are guided north by Bran's strange dreams of a three-eyed crow. They reach the Wall at the abandoned castle of the Nightfort, but cannot pass it. Suddenly the gate opens and they meet Samwell Tarly and Gilly. Sam guides them to Coldhands, who will take them north, whilst Sam returns to Castle Black, agreeing to keep the truth of their survival a secret.
The wildling army, over forty thousand strong, reaches Castle Black and assaults the Wall at that location. Jon leads a tenacious defence which sees hundreds of wildlings killed, but it seems that the Watch must be overrun. Things get worse when Janos Slynt, the former commander of King's Landing's City Guard who was exiled by a suspicious Tyrion Lannister, arrives. As one of the betrayers of Eddard Stark, Slynt takes an instant dislike to Jon Snow and accuses him of being a traitor. He has Jon sent out to parley with Mance Rayder. Jon expects to be killed, but Rayder is more understanding of his betrayal. Jon is shocked to learn that Rayder found the Horn of Winter, but would rather climb the Wall with it than melt it: with the Wall gone, what will stop the Others? Suddenly horns are heard in the east and a great strength of cavalry attacks the wildling army, plunging it into chaos and putting it to rout. To Jon's disbelief, the surviving army of King Stannis Baratheon has arrived. Rayder is captured and imprisoned. Stannis reveals that he received word of the Wall's dire straits (the letter Ser Davos Seaworth read) and that Melisandre believes the wildling invasion to be the forerunner of the return of The Other, the sworn foe of the red god R'hllor. Stannis resolves to forge a new kingdom out of the shattered, leaderless North, and as part of this plan offers to make Jon Snow rightful heir to the North, removing his bastardy and anointing him the Lord of Winterfell. Jon is torn over this offer, which would grant him what has always been his deepest desire - to be a Stark. In place, he would have to cast out the old gods he has worshiped all his life. However, his internal debate is rendered moot when the Night's Watch chooses its new Lord Commander. Through the clever machinations of Samwell Tarly, Jon Snow is elected Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
Daenerys discovers two traitors in her camp: Ser Jorah Mormont and Arstan Whitebeard. However, the nature of their treachery is very different. Mormont was selling information about her to Robert Baratheon up until they reached Qarth. Arstan Whitebeard is actually an alias of Ser Barristan Selmy, late Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Barristan wanted to right the ancient wrong of accepting Robert as his king by finding the true Targaryen heir to Westeros, but wanted to make sure the taint of madness had not affected her as her father. Daenerys offers both men the chance to make amends: by sneaking into Meereen through its sewers and opening the gates. At the meantime, she uses her three ships to make battering rams. While the defenders are distracted, Barristan and Jorah free the slaves in the fighting pits resulting in an uprising and Meereen falls soon after. She forgives Barristan Selmy and makes him Lord Commander of her Queensguard. However, she finds she still cannot trust Mormont and has him banished from her presence. Learning that Astapor has fallen under the control of a brutal dictator who moved to fill the power vacuum she left behind, Daenerys decides she cannot allow that to happen to Meereen and resolves to stay, and rule, and learn to be the queen that Westeros needs her to be.
George RR Martin lost the 2001 Hugo Award for Best Novel to JK Rowling. Afterwards he made this comment about his fans: "Eat your heart out, Rowling. Maybe you have billions of dollars and my Hugo, but you don't have readers like these."
The Brotherhood Without Banners, introduced in A Storm of Swords (although referenced earlier), also lends its name to the official George RR Martin fan group. The name was adopted in the first half of 2001 and the group held its first major gathering at the 2001 World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia.