Sunday, June 24, 2012

George R. R. Martin -- “A Clash of Kings”

*SPOILER ALERT* If you haven’t read the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire read no further! Instead scroll to the bottom of this page for a fairly-amusing picture.

This book should have been called “Waiting for a Clash.” A great deal of the book  is spent with one character or another brooding and planning an attack on another, either with a grand military or with wits alone. It is at once compelling and excruciatingly slow depending on the chapter. Each major character finds themselves in a precarious position where they can trust no one and where they must desperately seek allies to survive. The navigation is slow and tense. While the reader desperately wants to know whether the Lannister’s will retain power and if Robb Stark will be able to become the King in the North, Martin instead focuses much of the action on the squabbles of other houses. The book’s purpose seems to be to align everything for an all-out clash, but the wait is difficult.
Interestingly, Catelyn Tully and Tyrion Lannister find themselves on parallel journeys. Each is forced to play peacemaker and alliance forger for their families. Both go from one nest of vipers to the next. Catelyn must attempt to keep both the cold Stannis Baratheon and the arrogant Renly Baratheon from turning on her family or each other. Tyrion must try to retain order in a King’s Landing, contending not only with a starving and violent peasantry and opposing armies but the psychotic boy-king Joffrey and his vicious mother Cersei. Dowager queen Cersei Lannister is by far the least likable character of the first book and she does not increase her popularity in “A Clash of Kings.” Instead she grows increasingly cruel and psychotic, as paranoia and hunger for power consume any sense of reason she may have had left.
The breakout character of the book is by far Theon Greyjoy. While Theon was previously a blip on the map, he explodes in this book. After ten years as a ward in Winterfell, Theon returns home to take his place as heir to the throne of the Iron Islands, a cluster of nearly-inhospitable rocks. When his father and sister greet him with derision Theon determines to prove himself and the results are unimaginable. I sincerely hope Martin spends more time on the Iron Islands. I was fascinated by the local deity: “The Drowned God.” This is a god that was drowned in the unforgiving oceans surrounding the Iron Islands by a wicked storm god. This only strengthens the islanders’ belief as “what is dead may never die.”
If you enjoyed “A Game of Thrones” you will certainly be compelled to read “A Clash of Kings.” It serves its place in the series’ narrative, but do not expect a stand-alone story. This is for readers of “A Song of Ice and Fire” only. 

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