Review: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

15 November, 2012 Reviews 13 comments

Review: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. MartinA Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #2
Published by Bantam on May 28th 2002
Pages: 1009
Genres: Adult, High Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
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five-stars

Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon;who held sway over an age of enforced peace are dead...victims of royal treachery. Now, 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 through tempest, turmoil, and war.

As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky;a comet the color of blood and flame;six factions struggle for control of a divided land. Eddard;s son Robb has declared himself King in the North. In the south, Joffrey, the heir apparent, rules in name only, victim of the scheming courtiers who teem over King's Landing. Robert's two brothers each seek their own dominion, while a disfavored house turns once more to conquest. And a continent away, an exiled queen, the Mother of Dragons, risks everything to lead her precious brood across a hard hot desert to win back the crown that is rightfully hers.

A Clash of Kings transports us into a magnificent, forgotten land of revelry and revenge, wizardry and wartime. It is a tale in which maidens cavort with madmen, brother plots against brother, and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside.

Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, the price of glory may be measured in blood. And the spoils of victory may just go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when rulers clash, all of the land feels the tremors.

Audacious, inventive, brilliantly imagined, A Clash of Kings is a novel of dazzling beauty and boundless enchantment;a tale of pure excitement you will never forget.

Take a moment to read that synopsis.  (Unless you have yet to read the first book.  If  that’s the case, I recommend that you avoid it.  Spoilers abound!)  Isn’t it lovely?  And lengthy?  And bursting with so many ideas that it’s difficult to believe that the author could fit them all into one novel?

The second installment in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series epitomizes all of this perfectly.  It’s beautifully written.  It’s really long.  And it’s really, really complicated.

Strap in, folks.

A Clash of Kings is a behemoth of a book, stuffed with so many characters and storylines, old and new, that the author could have easily spread the content over two or three novels.  It certainly doesn’t have the qualities of a light read.  This is a piece of literature that, like its predecessor, requires a great deal of time and effort from its reader.

Also like its predecessor, thankfully, it’s well worth the investment.

Martin appears to favor a “slow burn” approach when constructing his stories.  Both of the works of his that I’ve read go something like this:

1. He starts things slow, taking his time to establish the central players and set up the many, many threads of the narrative.  A ridiculous amount of detail and character development follows, and it’s impossible to keep track of it all.

2. Then, right around the halfway point, he bludgeons the reader over the head with an enormous plot twist (also known as the “Let’s Kill a Major Character When Everyone Least Expects It” method).

3. From this point on, everything falls apart as things spiral into more death and ridiculous amounts of depression.

4. Wrap things up with a cliffhanger so huge that the reader has no choice but to immediately begin the next installment.  No, your real life does not matter at this point.

Thanks, Martin.  I’ll have you know that I’m not emotionally prepared for this sort of storytelling.  And with the end of the term approaching, I do not have endless amounts of time to spend on your series.

Your wonderful, wonderful series.

*sigh*

I spent a good portion of this one thinking that it was going to be a solid four stars.  A bit disappointing, but I consoled myself with the fact that I still found it a well-crafted installment that would likely pick up with the next one.  (Apparently, A Storm of Swords is the best of the series at this point.  What say you, fellow fans?)  After things started to get really exciting (à la Step 2), however, I added another half-star to my running score.

Because, darn it, I can’t fault Martin for a slow beginning if it still manages to be interesting.  Especially if it all turns out to be a lengthy buildup to some really intriguing plot developments.

The final half-star is for the final two hundred pages or so, which begin with the absolutely stunning “Battle of the Blackwater” scene.  Readers expecting a good deal of action from this book are going to be disappointed – while war plays a significant role in the story, very little of it is actually experienced firsthand.  Rather, the majority of the conflict is simply presented via dialogue, the point of view kept on those who are distant from the combat and the narrative focusing on how they respond to it.  And, yes, this means politics.  Complicated, intricate, really-hard-to-follow politics.  It’s bewildering, certainly, but fascinating as well.  Power struggles, betrayal, and lies abound, all of it intertwining in a way that is as exhilarating as it is baffling.

The above battle is the only one that actually occurs on-page, but it’s well worth the time that it takes to finally occur.  It’s gorgeously constructed and breathtaking in its scope, and I’ll admit that I spent most of it with goosebumps.  While the final chapters that follow don’t capture the same levels of intensity and excitement, Martin nonetheless ends the novel on a high note (frustratingly so) by leaving several characters in some shocking situations, most of which are altogether bleak and distressingly uncertain.

To balance the lack of tangible bloodshed, Martin delves deeply into the “fantasy” aspect of the worldbuilding that was only briefly touched upon in A Game of Thrones.  Magic incorporates itself into multiple storylines, and quite a few characters are influenced by it in one way or another by the story’s end.  Some may be alienated by this heavy dose of mysticism, but I find it to be a very welcome addition to the series.  It never feels heavy-handed or excessive, as Martin manages to make the development feel like a natural one for the progression of the story.  I’m eager to see where he’ll take it next.

I mentioned earlier that A Clash of Kings requires quite a bit of effort on the part of its reader, and I don’t write those words lightly.  If you found the first book frustrating, I guarantee that this one will likely drive you insane.  The already enormous number of central storylines and characters is supplemented by an ever-growing multitude of smaller ones, all woven together to form a very pretty, very confusing narrative tapestry.  It gets to the point where you find that you’re referencing an online site (A Wiki of Ice and Fire works wonders, I’ve found) or the character appendix at the back of the book every few pages.  It slows down the reading process, and can be an exhausting experience to wade through, but it’s worth the sweat and tears.  Near the end, much of it manages to come together in a very gratifying way, and those plots and subplots that eventually do not amount to anything of particular importance in the long run still make an appreciable contribution to the overall experience  – namely, the construction Martin’s world.  It all interlinks to form an astonishingly well-realized universe of  unbelievable complexity and scale.

As for the vast multitude of characters that Martin crams into his pages, one of my favorite aspects of A Clash of Kings is the level of growth that one gets to see in many of them.   Whether it be subtle (Catelyn and Ayra come to mind) or more obvious (Theon, and not in a good way), it’s immensely satisfying to realize just how much each has been through, and how greatly he or she has had to change in order to adapt to this world of escalating chaos.  The introduction of several new characters adds plenty of interesting new dynamics to the story as well, and I’m eager to see what future installments have in store for these as-of-now relatively unknown players.  (I’m looking at you, Melisandre and Davos.)

Finally, Martin’s writing continues to shine, with plenty of style and detail to compliment the story’s depth.  It does get a bit repetitive at points, but never to the point that it becomes irritating.  Considering how many words he manages to squeeze into this book alone, the fact that Martin reuses particular terms is certainly understandable.  There are only so many words that one can use as substitute without sounding ridiculous, and the thesaurus is only your friend to a certain point.

 

To Conclude…

If you’re expecting a nonstop thrill of violence and action, you won’t find it here.  I get the feeling that A Storm of Swords will be more along such lines, and while I was expecting to find more of this sort of thing here, I’m not at all disappointed.  A Clash of Kings is slow and cumbersome at times, but it nonetheless stands as a marvelous second helping of a series that is shaping up to be one of my all-time favorites.

Paul Beimers

Paul Beimers

Reviewer at Cuddlebuggery
A reviewer, blogger and trope enthusiast who isn't nearly as consistent with his reading as he should be.

13 Responses to “Review: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin”

  1. DraumrKopaBlog

    Oh man, I so want to see your review for the third book! It’s shocking. It’s brilliant! Make sure to read it before the third season of the series comes out on HBO, or you will spoil a MAJOR plot twist.

  2. Jenni Alluring Reads

    I haven’t read these books, but my husband watches the show.  Everytime I look up from my reading there is sex… and the woman never looks very happy about it.
     
    I like that you get a whole lot of bang for your buck in these books.  I’m not sure I have the patience to wade through them but I really enjoyed your review.  I would have thought that it was chalk full of action, but it’s good to know that it’s a “slow burn”.
     
    Great review!

  3. ChristinaBooth

    Firstly, I got to address the Storm of Swords thing–it’s definitely the best one to delve into because what follows–A Feast for Crows–moves at a complete snail’s pace give or take a few things. SOS definitely takes the slow burn approach to a maximum (because the first thing you’ll want when you crack open the cover is to find out what happened to certain characters, amirite?) but the subsequent build up leads to an extremely satisfying pay-off with plenty of battles to sate the quench for action and bloodshed. Be prepared to be pretty surprised, Paul. 
     
    For me, Clash of Kings was definitely heavy on the political intrigue, which I think is key to remember when reading Martin’s books–he’s a guy that’s more concerned with playing around with the intricacies of the politics in his world than being all swords and sorceresses about everything. In fact, I’ve begun to think of his many characters and families and clans as being sort of like The Sopranos if it took place in a fantasy setting. I agree with you, in that his voice and syntax gets to be a little repetitive, yet at the same time you always get the feeling that’s he such an authority of his world because he (or whomever) narrates with such a three dimensional perspective on everything. I have no doubt that if you asked Martin about, say, a certain landmark or cave in the world he’d be able to give some detailed history about (maybe).
     
    Also, ditto with the sea battle. I am SO curious to see how HBO plans to show this. That battle will be massive.

    • DraumrKopaBlog

      @ChristinaBooth Blackwater battle was in the second season wasn’t it? One of the best episodes so far! Or are you talking about another sea battle?

    • ashowerofsparks

      @ChristinaBooth Blackwater was Episode 2×09 of the series. They did it a little bit differently than the book, but it was still epic! George RR Martin wrote the script for the episode too. 
       
      I enjoyed Feast for Crows, but I can understand why people might say it moves slower…To be honest, A Dance with Dragons is my least favorite so far, mostly because I’m not a huge fan of Book!Dany’s subplots away from Westeros. I hope the storylines converge in Book 6.

  4. Mary BookSwarm

    STORM OF SWORDS WAS SOOOOOOO AWESOME!! AND MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE OF THE SERIES so far. I wish I could read it all over again. Hey, sorry about the all-caps. But this series is so ridiculous and awesome and why do I like it so much? *sigh*

  5. ashowerofsparks

    OMG I’m so happy you’re enjoying the series! The Battle of Blackwater is just TRULY epic. BUTTTTTT….A Storm of Swords is MY FAVORITE of the series so far and one of my favorite books EVER! SO MUCH STUFF HAPPENS. I mean you think the first two books are crazy….JUST WAIT…JUST WAIT…YOU WILL DIE!

  6. NinaReads

    Step 2 will blow your freakin’ mind in A Storm of Swords. I told a friend that i was reading it, and his instant reaction was: “Has sh*t gone down yet?”, to which I replied “I think so”. His response was “Oh no, you’ll KNOW when sh*t is going down”, and boy was he right. There was a scene where, had I been reading a paperback instead of a Kindle copy, I would have thrown the whole thing out my window. And it is so worth it!
     
    I actually don’t find the political intrigue too hard to keep up with, and the only time I’ve had to look something up was when I first started reading book one after watching the show, and had to check which one of the Clegane brothers went with which face from the show 😛

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