Upon finishing the 830+ page first installment in A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which I read for my book club, I jumped headlong into the second book, A Clash of Kings. At a mere 1009 pages, it’s really a rather light read.
This novel picks up immediately after A Game of Thrones tragically ended, and we must deal with the social and political ramifications, along with the citizens of Westeros. The Seven Kingdoms are in turmoil, King Robert Baratheon lies dead, and his wife’s son Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne. Terrible does not begin to describe Joffrey. He is the lowest of the low–spoiled, deranged, and abusive. He holds Sansa Stark–daughter of Eddard, one of the ill-fated protagonists of the first book–captive to his every whim. Tyrion, the dwarf brother of Queen Cersei (mother of Joffrey and wife of Robert), rules over his nephew, trying to take the fractured nation in hand, and finally proving to me that I can trust his justice. The youngest Stark daughter, Arya, is on the run from King’s Landing disguised as a boy and then a servant girl. She befriends some dangerous, yet potentially powerful people. Rob Stark is King in the North, directly opposing Joffrey’s forces, and Robert’s brothers have revolted as well. Dark magic is employed, and a final battle seems to determine the fate of the nation. Meanwhile, Bran and Rikken–the youngest of the Stark boys who remained in Winterfell, where it seemed safest–find that they are not as insulated as their mother once thought, and that their lives are about to be turned utterly upside down. Jon Snow, who left for The Wall in the far north, has gone on patrol to find out the fate of his uncle and to explore the zombie-like creatures he met at the end of A Game of Thrones, only to find more questions, hardships, and eventually a difficult choice awaiting him. On the other side of the world, Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled true heir to the Iron Throne, journeys through terrible trials in order to find herself, readying herself to cross the Narrow Sea and enter the fray in the battle for the Seven Kingdoms.
Confused? I don’t blame you. I promise you, however, it works perfectly.
Martin masterfully orchestrates this tale, interweaving the threads of story into a broad, sweeping tapestry. We have an advantage going into this book, as we know almost all of the characters, and Martin can indulge the deep characterization, allowing his readers a microscopic view of each character. Rarely have I been pulled in so deep emotionally to a story, let alone one as vast and intricate as this.
We meet new, terrifying characters, see the other side of characters with whom we have a passing familiarity, watch as those for whom we have grown to care are moved as pawns, beaten down, or even killed outright. Martin does not shy away from the peril in which the characters find themselves, and I’m always half expecting the scene I’m reading to be my last with someone.
Again, the sole detracting factor is the sexual nature which occurs periodically. Now, while it is not as frequent as A Game of Thrones, I believe it more intense in those few scenes. In each case, however, these scenes are relegated to terrible characters. Our main characters retain some of their “purity.”
Truly, George R.R. Martin has captured the darkness which lurks in the hearts of man, the tragic nature of the story is undeniable. The people constantly cry out for some sort of savior, a Christ-figure, a Gandalf-character. But so far none has shown himself. A conflict begins to arise between the polytheism of the Seven Kingdoms and a new monotheistic sect, yet the monotheism is sinister at first, then delving into degenerate evil.
This book, like its predecessor, is one of a few novels which I regularly found myself unable to set down (or in my case, as I listened to it as an audiobook, I couldn’t bring myself to hit “Pause”). The writing is inviting, the characters become your good friends or worst enemies, and the future becomes nearly impossible to predict. I will keep reading, but I need to wait for Spring or Summer, when the sun is out and I can face the inevitable hard future.