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A Clash of Kings is the second volume in George R. R. Martins series A Song of Ice and Fire, and a follow up to the popular A Game of Thrones.. This review contains some spoilers, as it's necessary to talk about some of the events and characters from the first book. If you haven't read the first book but plan to, DON'T READ THIS REVIEW.
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A Clash of Kings picks up where the first one left off. Robert Baratheon (king of Westeros) and Eddard Stark (his trusted advisor) are dead. Robert's heir, thirteen year-old Joffery, the reprehensible and sadistic son of Cersi and Jamie is now king; he is nothing more than a pawn of his mother's. Robb Stark (Eddard's oldest son) and Robert's brothers Renly and Stannis have all declared for the crown. The wildings and worse are stirring north of the wall. The whole realm is fragmenting into civil war. We're introduced to some new players, including Davos Seaworth, a captain in service to Stannis, and Lady Melisandre, a priestess of the Lord of Light, whose powers seem real, as Stannis's enemies are killed one by one by mysterious forces.
Civil war sweeps the land as the self-declared kings jockey for position and attempt to solidify their claims. Cersei schemes to retain the crown for her repulsive son Joffrey (and herself). Jamie is hostage to the Starks in the north, and Tyrion tries to keep everything from falling apart and save both the city of King's Landing and his family, though he does so without the notice or thanks of either. Danerys Targaryen, the last heir to the house Robert Beratheon overthrew, continues her quest to gain enough power to return to Westeros and reclaim the kingdom. North of the wall, strange forces are gathering; Jon and other Brothers of the Night's Watch sally forth to investigate.
As in the first book, Martin tells the story from the perspective of various characters, giving us intimate insight into their thoughts and motivations, which are often at odds with how these characters are perceived by others. It a technique Martin uses very effectively to make his character seem very real. Not only do we know why they do what they do, but we are also privy to what each of them thinks of the others, so we get both a private and public perspective on each.
Of all the characters, Tyrion Lannister I think is the most complex. If I were forced to pick a 'main ' character, it would probably be Tyrion. Arya, the youngest tomboy daughter of Eddard Stark, is still my favorite. Despite unpleasant event after unpleasant event, she perseveres, even as she suffers loss and indignity. Just when you think things can't get worse for her, it does, but not necessarily the way you might think. In children, it's the innocence that is first to go.
Martin continues to weaves lives (and deaths) together in an ever-increasingly complex web of personal stories. It can be overwhelming at times, trying to keep events straight when we see them perceived by different characters at different times. Then we're able to (most of the time) is a tribute to the strength of Martin's skill. It's kind of hard to offer up a review. In most books, we have a pretty good understanding of the destination, and we share the journey to that destination with a main character or two. In other words, the story is built around a beginning, a middle and an end.
In Lord of the Rings for example, we know the whole setup and what needs to be done: bad guy wants to take over the world and good guys need to stop him. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books aren't so clear-cut. There are no good guys and bad guys, there are only individuals, each with their own fears and loves and motivations. We never know what's ahead, and even when we think we know a character, we can still be surprised by something they do, even though when they do it it makes perfect sense.
There is no black and white. Martin's ,characters have strengths and flaws, regardless of which side of the battle they are on, or switch too, or ignore. Behaviors seen as evil from one character's perspective might seem reasonable from another's. We get to enjoy complex world filled with equally complex characters, all struggling with event beyond their power to fully deal with.
Like the first book, A Clash of Kings is long and requires quite an investment of time to read. Martin doesn't pull punches when it comes to violence, sex and profanity, so this isn't for younger teens.
Click here to buy A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire #2), by George R. R. Martin on Amazon
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