Overall Impression: An action-packed gritty adventure with vivid characters.
(To read my review of the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones click here.)
After devouring the first book in this series I vowed that I would take a decent break before tackling the second novel, A Clash of Kings. Partly so I could recover from the immense page length but also so that I would appreciate the story more. However, after reading only two other books I soon found myself yearning for more of the world of Westeros. Instead of forcing myself to read other books when I wasn’t in the mood for them I decided to give into the inevitable, and thus began my journey though this 708-paged beast of a book!
Please note: For those of you that haven’t read the previous book A Game of Thrones, this review will contain spoilers about plots and characters from that book in the first two paragraphs only. However, this review will not contain any spoilers for A Clash of Kings.
From the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims. As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky – a comet the colour of blood and flame – five factions struggle for control of a divided land. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, the price of glory is measured in blood.
After the death of King Robert Baratheon, the Lannister family are struggling to keep in control of King’s Landing, there’s an influx of murders, their people are starving and war is coming. Joffrey Baratheon, a young boy of 13, illegitimate heir born of incest with sociopathic tendencies sits atop the Iron Throne. Tyrion Lannister, known for his intellect as well as his ugliness is appointed Hand of the King in an attempt to prevent his sister and nephew from doing any further damage.
Meanwhile claims to the throne, legitimate or otherwise, are mounting. Stannis, Robert’s brother and true heir to the Iron Throne plots invasion from Dragonstone with the help of a mysterious Red Woman who claims to have a direct link the Lord of Light. Renley, Robert’s younger brother is using his flowery charms to gather an army in the Stormlands. Robert Stark marches in the North determined to avenge his father and in the East, Daenerys Targaryen, Stormborn, Khaleesi and mother of dragons is growing her forces.
It will be a clash of kings, but who will come out on top?
George R.R. Martin’s writing is equally as brilliant in this installment as it was in A Game of Thrones. It only took a couple of chapters before I was fully immersed in his brutal, medieval-esk world. It still amazes me how real it all feels which is a testament to Martin’s brilliant world building. Every inch of the Seven Kingdoms is unique, each kingdom has it’s own traditions, motto’s and beliefs (e.g. the New Gods, the Old, Gods, the Drowned Gods, etc.) and the people occupying those lands have their own individual traits both externally because of their genetics and clothing choices and internally for their disposition towards certain defining personality traits. So much time and effort has gone into this world that sometimes all I can do is sit in awe of it, wondering how on earth the human brain could be capable of so much invention. And yet, despite all the incredible detail Martin fits in he still manages to create a fast paced story full of political shenanigans and smart dialogue that treads the line between snarky and witty.
Although I have mentioned above the central plots concerning the power play going on in this novel, in reality it’s only the tip of the iceberg because there are so many facets to this complex story, many of which the reader doesn’t yet understand the importance of because of its wide expanse. There are nine main character point of views and not all of them are directly involved in the fight for the throne. For instance, Jon Snow of the Night’s Watch is far off in the North investigating tales of Wildlings, giants and the Others. After reading two novels in this world I am starting to develop favourites, both in terms of the characters specifically and their individual storylines, however, I still found each tale interesting (well, except for one which I will touch on later) and this is vital for a book that uses this technique or it can become boring quickly.
A Clash of Kings, like it’s predecessor, has plenty of gore, sex and violence to keep the reader entertained plus an extraordinary amount of brutal character deaths, yay! For the first time I began to see a distinction between the books and the TV show which was great because it meant I stumbled into some scenes that were new and unknown to me. My reading progress with A Clash of Kings got off to a bit of a rocky start, with my busy Isle of Wight holiday and the horrific cold I was hit with afterwards it took me about 2 weeks to read the first 150 pages. After that however, I was off at a sprint, once again caught up in Martin’s fast paced storytelling managing to get though huge chunks at a time. For some reason though, I really struggled with the last 100 pages. All the major plots seemed to stall at once and become less interesting. Maybe I was simply running out of steam or it was because I already knew how the story ended but the remaining chapters felt bogged down with extra unneeded details. It did hamper my overall enjoyment of the book somewhat because it was the final impression I was left with!
Brilliant world building, snappy dialogue and fast pacing are great, but it’s the characters that make this series memorable. There’s Tyrion the quick-witted dwarf who traverses the royal politics with skill, the stoical stone-like Stannis who rarely cracks even a grim smile, despicable and sadistic Joffrey who really needs a good punch in the face and brave and bold Daenerys wise beyond her years. I was pleased to be given more insight into the Stark children as well. I found myself warming to Bran as he attempted to step up to role required of him and Arya really grew on me too. Her ability to adapt and survive in such harsh circumstances was impressive and I thought it was brilliant how she seemed to repel anything remotely girly. Sansa’s interactions with the Hound were endearing and Jon Snow was ever the brave and selfless, although I don’t feel as if I have really gotten to know his character fully yet. I wish Martin would give us a little more insight into Rob and Cersei though, I feel like these two characters are more impressive in the show but maybe they will be developed further in the subsequent books. We are also introduced to two new POV characters, Davos and Theon. Theon I detested with a fiery vengeance but the author has designed him to be interesting as well as slimy and Davos, a smuggler turned adviser to the king was a great addition. I loved his backstory and as one of the older characters he had a wiser world weary approach to life that was appealing.
There were two specific characters I had problems with however. The first was Shae, Tyrion’s romantic entanglement. She seemed so oblivious to the events around her often moping and complaining when she didn’t get exactly what she wanted. Luckily, she was a minor character so it didn’t impact me two much. The second character I had a problem with was Catelyn, and she was a main character with a lot of page time. I found her boring and underdeveloped. She seemed to be defined entirely for her love of other people, her husband, sons and daughters and every time it switched back to her POV she would talk about how worried she was about them and I found it repetitive. Maybe that’s unsympathetic of me because she had to deal with a lot of awful stuff (being vague to avoid spoilers) and I did feel sorry for her, but it annoyed me that she seemed to have very little affect on the events surrounding her, things happened to her and she sat there passively and when she did have something to say it was shot down by the other characters. She seemed purely like a plot device, a mouthpiece to explain what was going on with exterior events. I feel like Martin should have either given her more to do or picked a more action packed character to focus on.
Overall this was a great book, fast paced and entertaining with some brilliant characters but it was slightly let down by the last 100 pages and Catelyn’s repetitive internal monologues. I would recommend A Clash of Kings to males or females 16+ who enjoy smart writing, political intrigue and a bit of good old fashioned adventure!
Writing Style: 5/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.
Overall Impression: 4/5