August 9, 2013

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

The night rang to the clash of steel and the cries of the wounded and dying. For a moment Arya stood uncertain, not knowing which way to go. Death was all around her.
-from A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2

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Warning: This review contains spoilers for A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

In the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, readers find Westeros in serious discord. The death of King Robert Baratheon has left his teenage son, Joffrey, in charge of the realm; but with rumors that Joff is Jamie Lannister's bastard child, it seems every man is vying for the throne. Robert's militant older brother, Stannis, and carefree younger brother, Renly, are both challenging Joffrey's claim to the throne respectively; and upon the shocking execution of his father, Robb Stark is more fierce than ever to separate himself as King in the North and rid the realm of Lannisters. Similarly, Daenerys is motivated by the death of her beloved Drogo to press on and claim the iron throne. Armed with her dragons, Dany is stronger than ever, despite ever-present obstacles. But the danger north of The Wall is still looming and Jon Snow is going straight into the unknown beyond. With so many differing opinions, so many secrets, and so much deceit, it's hard to tell if there will be peace in the realm ever again.

I was afraid after reading A Game of Thrones that I would get burned out of this series quickly, but on the contrary: A Clash of Kings only reinforced my enjoyment of George R.R. Martin's mythical world. This book picks up right where the last one left off and jumps straight into the action of war. Different character perspectives are integrated as chapters, which was especially helpful in seeing every side's perspective. While I may not agree with a character's claim to the throne, reading their reasons and motivations for seeking power through people on their side made me more sympathetic to their plight. It really calls to question what is right by the law versus what is right for the kingdom. My only complaint is that the reader does not get this experience with Renly; I would love to hear his perspective and think he should have been afforded at least a chapter or two.

My favorite element of this book actually isn't the politics or war, but the fact that the Stark children are all spread out and separated from each other and have to use their individual survival skills to find a way back together, not to mention cope with the death of their father. Robb is fighting in the thick of war, Jon is on The Wall, Sansa is stuck in the castle ultimately as a Lannister hostage, Arya is pretending to be a boy joining the Night's Watch, and Bran and Rickon are waiting at Winterfell for their family to return. I love seeing how these children utilize what their parents have taught them to get by each day and how they are all such survivors. I really hope none of them die and am praying to read some really incredible reunion scenes in the future! 

One thing that differed from the first book is the increased element of magic. Without magic, some things are somewhat predictable; but with magic, all bets are off! At times, this made me frustrated because the utilization of magic doesn't make for a fair fight and doesn't always seem to make the most sense (i.e. with Bran). But this additional dynamic definitely adds to more drama and brings the story to a new level. 

Overall, this book was about war, but Martin continues to impress me with the way he strings his stories together with character experiences, crossing time and culture to build a timeless a story about relationships and politics. This story doesn't have as defining of an ending as its prequel, so that means if you read it, you're definitely going to have to press forward straight to part 3: A Storm of Swords.

Bottom Line: If you read A Game of Thrones, you definitely can't miss this one! Once you've started, you just can't stop! 5/5 stars

Next week's book is A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

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