Random Review: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Tonight, we curl up by the light and take a look at A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martins’ second installment of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga. There will be spoilers for A Game of Thrones galore, so read at your own risk, ye who enter here.

As a blood red comet soars across the skies of Westeros, the Seven Kingdoms are in turmoil. King Robert Baratheon is dead, and his Hand, Lord Eddard Stark, was executed after discovering a terrible secret. Now three self proclaimed kings are in a struggle for possession of the Iron Throne. Queen Cersei Lannister fights to keep her son Joffrey on the throne, even though she knows that he is not Robert’s true heir. Robert’s brothers, the cold and dour Stannis and the popular and charismatic Renly, each crown themselves kings for their own motives and reasons. Meanwhile, Eddard’s son, Robb Stark, is crowned King in the North and seeks to secede his lands from the Iron Throne, while Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands reignites an old rebellion by invading the North while Robb is away. This five-way civil war would go on to be known as the War of the Five Kings.

Meanwhile, other plots unfold beyond the Seven Kingdoms. Jon Snow of the Night’s Watch goes on an expedition in the lands beyond the Wall and discovers that there are dangers there more threatening than anyone could imagine. Far to the east, Daenerys Targaryen gathers her forces and plans her invasion of the Seven Kingdoms, but has a hard time finding allies who don’t want to take away her three dragons, the last known living ones in the world.

Running on all cylinders after A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings is where things really start getting good. In terms of writing, not a lot has changed. There are still several intertwined stories told from different points of view, there’s still all the intrigue and plotting in the previous book, and Martin’s world is still brought vividly to life through his masterful writing style. Seriously, he makes it look so easy that it’s disgusting. The only thing is that now he has upped the ante on all those elements, which of course means pouring down the bleakness. A Game of Thrones ended on a real down note and picks up right as the Seven Kingdoms are on the brink of war. No one is happy, and everyone on both sides suffers from it.

Most of the characters from the last book make their triumphant return and most of them are still up to their old shenanigans, only this time, it becomes hard to tell which side you’re rooting for. For example, in the first book I didn’t like Sansa Stark at all. I thought that she was naïve, mean, and had a very unrealistic view on life. Reality hits her like a sledgehammer when King Joffrey (who is still the repulsive bag of dicks we all know and hate) ordered the death of her father and begins abusing her for his own sick amusement. It is then that she begins to demonize all of the lords and knights that she once romanticized, and somewhere along the line I started to feel bad about all the bad things I thought about her before. Sansa’s story arc was not the happiest of the bunch (then again, none of these stories are particularly happy), but it kept my interest and makes me wonder what direction Martin will take her story in future books. But that’s just my experience with one character. With nine main characters to follow, it can be overwhelming when trying to keep track of everything. Some story arcs like Daenerys’s search for allies in the city of Qarth and Arya’s struggle for survival in the fortress Harrenhal could be taken out of the big picture and enjoyed on their own merits, but they still play their role in the grand scheme of things.

With a book that clocks in at over 700 pages, they were obviously able to cover a lot of ground. Like I said, there are nine characters to keep track of, most of which are thousands of miles apart from each other. But almost each character is given a respectable amount of page time to grow and development. This also leads to a good balance of action and dialogue. There are a lot of chapters where it’s just talking, but most of it is all building up to the book’s conclusion. A lot of these dialogue heavy chapters come from the dwarf Tyrion, who has been made the Hand of the King. This works great because Tyrion’s entire shtick is that what he lacks in size and strength he makes up for in wit, and this is proven as he prevents his sister’s sabotages at every step, further proving why he’s my favorite character. But that’s not to say it’s just about of talking heads. There are a ton of great battles in this book. On land or on sea, you’re dropped right in the middle of the action. The final chapters of the book lead up to an epic battle between Joffrey and Stannis’s men at King’s Landing, and almost all of Tyrion’s chapters were leading up to this climactic clash. It was at this point in particular that I had a hard time putting it down and ended up staying up well past my bedtime.

If I had to make any complaints about this book, it would be that it focuses too much on certain characters and not enough on others. Daenerys, whose story arc made up a large chunk of the last book, gets a measly six chapters. Of course they’re just as crucial to the story as everyone else’s and make for some of the best chapters in the book, but still leave a lot to be desired. Davos Seaworth, Stannis’s right hand man and the only new POV character, gets even less page time. But just like Daenerys’s chapters, what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. It is through him that we see what the wicked sorceress Melisandre is capable of, and it is through him that was see a majority of the Battle of Blackwater. Another character I wish I could’ve seen more of is Robb Stark, who’s leading the North against the Iron Throne. We hear how he’s been kicking ass and taking names against the Lannisters, winning every battle he fights, but we never get to see any of it. Perhaps we’ll get to see more of these characters in A Storm of Swords, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

So what it all comes down to is that A Clash of Kings is an amazing follow-up to an already promising series. A Game of Thrones was a great book on its own, but after reading the second book, I realize that it was just setting things up for the future. I thoroughly enjoyed this one as much as the last, perhaps even more, and I eagerly await to see what else this series has in store. Seeing how each one gets thicker and thicker, it looks like I got my work cut out for me.

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