Top critical review
A bit of an anti-climax, but still rather good
on 19 August 2012
This is the impression I got when reading this tome. To a large extent, it is because there are fewer major events happening. With the exception of Daenerys, which, at last stop travelling pointlessly and taking baths (I've lost count of the number of times we have seen her taking baths since Game of Thrones!), there are no great battles. However, there is plenty of other things happening.
One of Martin's habits, or at least it is getting into a habit, is to introduce into each of his volume some new features of his fiction world. In this one, we get at least two. The first is linked to Daenerys and to Slavers' Bay, where we get introduced to the brick slaver cities, with their square pyramids and their slave merchants. I couldn't help trying to guess what inspired him here. Perhaps it was the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. Anyway, the slave soldiers seem to be a bit inspired by the Turkish Mamluks and the Ottoman janissaries, except that they also seem to be eunuchs. Another nice piece that most "fans" have probably loved (me included) is that we see the dragons in action, fire and all.
The second piece that interested me is what is happening in the war-torn central part of Westeros in the absence of major battles: the "day-to-day life" in a war-torn zone infested with marauders from all sides. This is heavily inspired by the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, with war bands from both sides digging themselves into the various castles and fortresses that they might have taken, living of the country, and raiding whatever territory is controlled by the other factions. This is very much the situation that prevails between the Twins and Kings Landing and we get a glimpse at some of the various bands of warriors and mercenaries serving on each side, and sometimes changing sides.
Regarding the characters, there are a few comebacks, such as Beric Dondarion and Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest, both of which are much changed. We also see quite a bit of the Hound, Sandor Clegane, who, after escaping from King's Landing and the Lannisters, travels with Arya and runs into the two characters mentioned above. The main comeback, however, is that of Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, who manages to get back to his side but is no longer the dashing, rash and near-invincible swordsman that he used to be. Finally, we have the continuing adventure of Jon with the wildlings which he manages the get rid of at some cost.
Anyway, volume 1 of Steel and Snow is still rather good, if perhaps slightly less so than the previous instalments.
I definitely agree with another reviewer on Amazon.co.uk - this is bordering 4 stars, but not quite that - although we happen to be coming at it from two opposite directions.