A Clash of Kings: Book Two of A Song of Fire and Ice
By George R.R. Martin
I'm doing good on my new year's resolution to make some progression in the multitude of series I have begun over the past couple of years. Of all the series I have started, it was the Game of Thrones series I was most excited to continue, because it kicks ass, but also most frightened to pick up, because it's over 1000 pages. I'm not frightened of large books so much as the investment of time a thousand page book presents. Since I never, ever put a book down (no matter how much it sucks), I have to be pretty sure a thousand page book is going to entertain. That's a lot of potentially crappy pages to read.
I needn't have worried. George R.R. Martin puts out.
For those of you living under a rock, this is the second book in the Song of Fire and Ice series by Martin. For those of you who have already read all five of the books currently available and came here for information on the upcoming sixth and seventh novels, I can't help you. For those who are a fan of the television series and haven't read the books, there might be some spoilers. I dunno. I'm light years behind in the novel series and I've only watched the first two episodes of the television series. Don't you roll your eyes at me! I'm lucky I've gotten this far considering the way I acquire books. It's not like I can walk down to the local bookstore. The closest English bookstore is a three hour train ride away! Back off!
A Clash of Kings starts up where A Game of Thrones left off. King Robert is dead, Joffery Lannister is sits on the Iron Throne at King's Landing, Eddard Stark has been executed as a traitor, Eddard's son has ceded from the Seven Kingdoms and declared himself King of the North and all hell is breaking loose. Meanwhile, somewhere in Mongolia (I mean the Dothraki Plains and the Red Waste), Daenerys Targaryen, the last surviving offspring of the Targaryen royal family rambles on with her newly hatched dragons and not much else. MEANWHILE, north of The Wall, Mance Rayder (that's a Star Wars name if I ever heard one) is rumored to be amassing an army to advance on the Seven Kingdoms who are not paying attention (due to the aforementioned Civil War). Giants and mammoths and shape shifters are rumored to be involved.
Along with King Joffrey, King Robb and Queen Daenerys, three more contenders to the Iron Throne emerge throughout the book (though some of them die along the way) and hints at a few others that may make a play in the forthcoming (for me) books. It's all very confusing, but that's the nature of Seven Kingdoms politics. It's a damned good thing the Westeros doesn't have 24-hour news programming and screaming pundits pettifogging the already murky political landscape south of the Trident. It takes all 1000 pages of this novel to untangle this bureaucratic Gordian Knot. Even then, there's still five books to come. Jeez Louise, why would anyone even want to sit on that damned throne. It's cursed.
For me, this series always hinges on it's relationship with classic Tolkien-style fantasy, which I despise. The reason I loved the first book so much was that magic and dragons and elves and all that nonsense was virtually non-existent throughout. While the fantasy element is scaled up a bit in this novel, it was done in such a way as to assist non-fantasy fans like me into the idea of perhaps accepting a little of the unexplainable. It was like easing myself down into a scalding hot bathtub. It took some time, but ultimately I got comfortable enough. There were times that I had to remind myself that I was reading fantasy. That's encouraging news for book three.
I do have a few complaints about the second novel, and the series as a whole.
First, I'm a little dismayed by the fact that George R.R. Martin stacks his readers so heavily behind the Starks of Winterfell. He has done such a wonderful job of creating this world with competing families plotting and scheming and allying themselves with each other. It seems unlikely that one of those families would be as noble as the Starks (and still be able to compete in this cutthroat environment). And it seems that Martin writes his book with the intent of making his readers cheer for the Starks. They are wonderful and all, but the entire family reminds me of the Seavers from Growing Pains. Too blandly righteous. Well, I'm having none of that! Go Team Targaryen!
And while we are on the topic of teams, what's with the Lannister's? How the hell are they so feared among the families of the Seven Kingdoms? The Lannister's remind me of the Bluth Family without the Banana Stand. Tyrion is Michael, Cersei is Lindsay/Lucille, Jaime is GOB, Joffrey is Buster and Twyin as George. Add Varys as Lupe and the circle is complete. With this comparison firmly entrenched in my head, it was so hard to take them seriously throughout this book. I do like Tyrion, though.
Finally, I had a really hard time with the amount of dream sequences in this book. I'm already bogged down in a thousand pages of reading, four page dream scenes involving direwolves and symbolic foreshadowing really dragged me down. In fact, I'm really uninspired by the trajectory of the Bran storyline. Every time I got to the beginning of a Bran chapter, I audibly groaned. Furthermore, the Daenerys storyline was hampered by a litany of acid trips (I mean, dreams and trips to weird temples) that really bothered the hell out of me. As much as I like the potential of Daenerys as a character, she did very little in this novel other than loaf around Qarth begging for stuff she never got. Absolutely no progression in her story whatsoever. Shame. She's my favorite.
When the hell is Mance Rayder going to make an actual appearance?
Overall, A Clash of Kings is a solid read and progresses the overall story of the Iron Throne very well. There are lots of nice twists and turns and surprises along the way. Just enough was resolved to give the reader a sense of closure and just enough was introduced or left dangling to make the reader ache for the next novel. While I'm going to take a break from the series once again, it won't be nearly as long as my first hiatus. There's so much more trouble brewing in the Seven Kingdoms. I've been sufficiently sucked in to care how it turns out.
Other reviews from A Song of Ice and Fire:
A Game of Thrones
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows