George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, Part One: Steel and Snow: Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire (London: Harper Voyager, 2011), 623pp
Whilst the Song of Ice and Fire books of course have their own pre-existing following, I imagine that many people now deciding to read this book will do so due to the success of the television series Game of Thrones, as I did. Therefore, I will not provide an ordinary review but try to give my impressions of the book as someone who had already been exposed to the television adaptation. Consequently, there may be spoilers for those who haven't seen the show.
My impressions of Part One of A Storm of Swords are very similar to those I had regarding A Clash of Kings. It is apparent that the television series has made a number of narrative tweaks, changing character arcs and eliminating/consolidating minor characters to streamline the story. Both the Red Wedding and the Second Sons, for example, are delayed until Part Two of this book, whereas in the TV series they were brought forward to the end of Season 3. There are also no Theon Greyjoy plotlines in Part One here; presumably I will find the ones already adapted for the screen when I get onto Part Two. But fans of Daenerys and her dragons will be happy to know that her visit to Astapor is here in Part One.
I freely admit to preferring the changes made for the screen adaptation, and I must say that I don't think this is entirely due to the fact that I experienced the show first. For example, in the book Tyrion Lannister actually desires his wife Sansa Stark, and their wedding night goes a bit further in the bedroom than it did in the screen version. This, to my mind, makes the book's version of Tyrion less sympathetic than Peter Dinklage's version, particularly as he seems to forget about Shae. In the book, there is also a clumsy lesbian sex scene involving Daenerys which just seems gratuitous. Robb Stark's wife - so important to how the war develops - is also a minor character in the book, much less fleshed out than her screen counterpart. She is also a shy girl from a minor House called Jeyne, rather than the foreign noblewoman Talisa from Volantis that we meet on screen. There are a number of other minor changes (Jaime is bald!) but these are the ones that stood out for me.
As with the previous two books, the main advantage held over the TV series is that it allows for more depth than can be presented on screen. Jaime's backstory, concerning the wildfire in King's Landing, plays out much the same as on screen, but goes into a bit more depth. Chapters are also told from the perspective of Jaime which is refreshing, as his character changes from the smug, sister-shagging, Bran-crippling rich boy to someone who might have some good in him deep (deep) down. We also get a bit more of Mance Rayder's backstory and the morally-gray nature of his character; yes, he is good in that he wants to see his people safely south away from the White Walkers, but in doing so he means to bring down the Wall and consequently open the rest of Westeros to the White Walker threat. With this in mind, the Horn of Winter (also known as the Horn of Joramun) is also given a couple of teasing references; perhaps it has something to do with the broken horn Sam found amongst the dragonglass at the Fist?
As in the first two books, battles are more fleshed out than on screen, though to my recollection the only real battle in Part One of A Storm of Swords (Astapor doesn't count) is the one between the Night's Watch and the White Walkers at the Fist of the First Men - in the show this wasn't even depicted. It is also hinted at that what Stannis saw in the flames with the Red Woman (which was shown on screen) was part of this battle, though I might have misinterpreted this.
Overall, whilst there are a lot of opportunities here for fans to compare and contrast the differences between the book and the TV series, the two mediums do still sing in harmony. The stories in both the book series and the TV series are shaping up nicely, with the 'Song of Ice and Fire' of the series' title becoming ever more intriguing. It seems clear that in this cataclysmic clash, the 'Ice' will be the White Walkers, but the 'Fire' is harder to pin down. Will it be Daenerys' dragonfire (as she dreams on page 375) or the hosts of the Lord of Light (as Stannis and the Red Woman profess on pages 348-9 and 500)? Or something else, which George R. R. Martin has yet to divulge? Whatever it is, I finish each volume of Martin's books with ever-increasing desire to pick up the next one. The books are quick and easy to read, which is remarkable when you consider their length and the amount of detail they go into. The confusion regarding all the names of the characters is becoming more pronounced, but this is a minor quibble. These books have taken fantasy to another level.