A lot of stuff happens in each volume in this series. I mean, I'm just shy of having read 3000 pages in the first three books, so that probably goes without saying, but what I mean is that big things happen in each volume. Battles are won, battles are lost, horrible things happen, and in the end, people die. Were they the right people, or the wrong people? As Martin has already established with the first two books, it doesn't matter. No one in the world of Westeros is completely innocent or guilty. The problem is that having a discussion about it means that you have to put the events in perspective with the entire series, so if you haven't completed the first three books, you might want to skip the rest of this review.
A Storm of Swords marks the point where I go beyond what I already know will happen in the series. Part of me worries that, without the anchor of the show to keep me grounded amid all of the machinations, I'll start to lose sense of the details of the story like I did so many years ago with A Game of Thrones. The rest of me realizes that the story is vivid enough to keep me interested in what's happening in the story. I found myself just as emotionally engaged in the characters (enough so to feel the grief at Shea's betrayal of Tyrion, and the joy of Jon's selection as the High Commander of the Night Watch), and I won't deny that I'm glad to be at a point where I don't know what's coming next. If I was reading the novels to continue the story that I already knew through the show, then I finally reached the point where that's the case.
That's not to say that I didn't find the parts I already knew engaging. If nothing else, I got a bit more out of them knowing what was to come. Take the Red Wedding for example: I knew how it was going to happen, I knew who was going to die (mostly; Jeyne/Talisa wasn't at the wedding, so she was spared, and instead of murdering Walder Frey's seventh wife, Catelyn murdered his half-wit son instead), and I knew that Arya was going to miss her last chance to reunite with her family. It didn't change the emotional impact of the scene, though, nor did it make it any easier to experience. If anything, knowing what was coming made it even worse, since I could see the foreshadowing from many chapters ahead. Knowing what was to come made it easier to see to what lengths Walder Frey would go to in order to exact his revenge. It was pretty chilling.
This book also introduced a new point-of-view character -- Jaime -- which took me by surprise. I shouldn't have been surprised (for all the introspection the character went through on the show, I should have known that we would get the chance to see events through his eyes), but I had gotten used to the standard POV characters, and wasn't expecting a new one to join the mix. He helped Tyrion escape a death sentence, and he helped give Brienne the closure she needed regarding Renly's death, so he's made the transition from an antagonist to ... well, if not a protagonist, then at least a sympathetic character. Joffrey never got a POV chapter of his own, which made me think of the character of Caddie from The Sound and the Fury; we only ever see the characters as depicted from the viewpoints of other people, so are we really getting an accurate depiction of them at all? He was a cruel character who enjoyed that cruelty, and we reveled in his death as much as many of the main characters did. Maybe that's all we needed to know about him.
With this volume in the series, the divergences between the book and the show are much more obvious. As already mentioned, Jeyne was replaced with a new character who died at the Red Wedding, whereas in the books she wasn't present, and was pardoned by the Freys for her treason, but there were larger, more consequential changes that make me worry about the direction the show is taking. The ending of A Storm of Swords (or should I say "endings," as there are two pretty shocking revelations at the end) put Littlefinger into a larger role that spanned all three books. It's never clear in the books that he has his hand in the events that largely, but I worry that the events concerning him and Sansa in the show are too different from those in the book. Still, there is more to come on the show, and given that Martin has had a close watch on how the series developed, I'm sure that he will manage to put together a story that will satisfy.