Title: A Clash of Kings
Author: George R.R. Martin
Release Date: September 5, 2000
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Warning: This review may contain spoilers for the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones
War has come to the land of Westeros, and all sides are gearing up for the inevitable conflict. In Winterfell, Robb Stark has taken up his father’s seat and declared his realm independent of the Iron Throne. Renly and Stannis Baratheon, brothers of the late king, fight amongst themselves for the right to call themselves Robert’s heir. And the Lannisters, from the duplicitous Cersei to the imprisoned Jamie to the shrewd Tyrion, plot as ever to keep their hold on the Seven Kingdoms.
A Game of Thrones was a book about the breaking of the delicate peace that once existed within the Seven Kingdoms, one which hinged on Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark. Now, in A Clash of Kings, these two men are dead and there are countless claimants to the Iron Throne. Yet, there is a sense that the real war has not come yet; this book is only the beginning, gearing up for an endless, bloody conflict where there can be no compromises. Martin writes his atmosphere well. Things are tense and close, and no one knows who can be trusted.
Once again, the characters are expertly drawn in A Clash of Kings. Martin revisits old favorites, but also introduces some entirely new players. The cast of characters is almost mindboggling, to the point there are pages and pages at the end of the book detailing the different houses present in the Seven Kingdoms. Martin’s strength, though, is making each person in his novel distinct, even the minor characters. These seem like real people, leaping off the page.
One surprising thing about A Clash of Kings is Martin’s ability to write complex and layered characters. I pointed out in my review of A Game of Thrones that there is no real “good” and “bad” in these books in terms of characters, and that trend continues into this book. The people whose side you are rooting for don’t behave quite as well as you’d like them to. On the other hand, Tyrion Lannister, a character the reader really would be rooting against had anyone else written this story, is a hero of the novel. He’s smart, cunning, shrewd, and shows an amazing amount of sense. At times, I would forget that I was actually against his side winning because I adored his character so much.
The plot of A Clash of Kings is complicated and intricate, but it isn’t difficult to keep up with. I really appreciate how Martin takes risks with his characters and storyline. There were twists I never saw coming, which makes for an exciting read. Something has to keep a reader interested for 1000 pages, and Martin has managed to capture whatever that is. I am really in awe of this series, at its breadth and depth, and it’s good to know that the second book lost none of the magic of the first.