Jul 6, 2011

A Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin

My ASoIF reread is going much slower than expected, due to summer being all summery... I am really annoyed that I won't be able to finish the fourth book before A Dance With Dragons comes out, which means I will not be reading it the first second it hits shelves. Profound tragedy to say the least. Oh well, moving on.

A red comet shines over the skies of Westeros. The color of blood and fire, it is a symbol, but a symbol of what? Five kings strive to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and everyone sees it as a sign for his victory. In King's Landing, the young Joffrey Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne, but his fickle rule - directed by his mother Cersei of House Lannister - is on the brink of total disaster as both the late king Robert's brothers are declaring themselves king and threatening open war.

Meanwhile, in the North, Robb Stark has been declared King of the North, and he is fighting the Lannister forces to rescue his sisters from the Queen and avenge his father's death. At the same time, in the Iron Isles the Greyjoys have decided to carve a kingdom for themselves as well, returning to their old ways of piracy and pillaging. And beyond the Wall the force of Jeor Mormont and his Black Brothers are tracking the lost Benjen Stark in an attempt to find out why all the wildlings have left their villages and what are Mance Rayder's plans.

But the red comet is a sign meant for someone else entirely. A new Queen has arisen beyond the Narrow Sea. Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and rightful heir to the Iron Throne of Westeros, sets on a pilgrimage, following the red star with the remnants of her dead husband's khalasar, ever looking for a way to reclaim the kingdom that was stolen from her father.

A Clash of Kings starts right where A Game of Thrones (Review) ended. The realm is in chaos, with multiple powers vying for control. War rages everywhere and the smallfolk are just victims in the battles of knights and lords. The book has many PoVs, but with one exception they are all familiar faces from the first part. The most time is given to Tyrion Lannister - sent by his father to act as Hand of the King and somehow save King's Landing from the invading armies of both Renly and Stannis Baratheon. Those were also - to me - the most enjoyable chapters in the book, as Tyrion constantly plays the scheming game with his malicious sister Cersei, but unlike Ned Stark and Jon Aryn before him, he actually revels in it, and the reader revels with him.

Another big chunk of the book is given to Arya Stark, last seen in the hands of Yoren of the Black Brothers. He dresses her up as a boy and takes her with his group of conscripts for the Wall, hoping to drop her in Winterfell on the way North. Things don't go so smoothly of course, and Arya is used to give the reader a ground level view of the war that we didn't have in A Game of Thrones.

There are many new characters, some of them important, others - not so much, but with one exception, none of them has their own chapters (although that will change in the next books). Still, the cast is quite a bit larger than in the first part, and a good thing too, because Martin isn't shy about killing off characters, even if they are important players. And more than a few fates are left hanging by the end of the book.

Just like with A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings doesn't so much have its own plot, as follows a chunk of the overarching story. However, unlike A Game of Thrones (where I could not find a single unnecessary page), here there be filler chapters, and not a few of them. Many of Catelyn Stark's entries are pretty much just her bemoaning her sad fate while a good half of Tyrion's chapters could easily have been cut. They aren't entirely "unnecessary" of course, as they create atmosphere, and fill in time gaps that would otherwise remain unaccounted for. Also, the latter are immensely enjoyable as everything Tyrion does is gold. It's just that not that much plot development happens in them, and they do feel rather fillerish.

That said, the book suffers not from this. A Clash of Kings is every bit as good as A Game of Thrones, and what it lacks in speed, it more than makes up for in epicness. War is ravaging the land, and you can feel it in every chapter, no matter how far the character is removed from the actual battles. Most of the main players see a significant development, both in terms of personality and their place in the game, and the threat from beyond the Wall is beginning to take tangible shape.

So, as far as magnificence is concerned, A Clash of Kings is pretty damn magnificent! And if I wish it were shorter, it has more to do with the fact that I desperately want to finish the reread before Dance comes out, than with anything else.


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