I have never been involved in delirious medieval battle, sword in hand, cutting down my nearest foes. My hands and arms have never felt warm blood spurting from inflicted wounds. I have never felt the impediment heavy armor brings to the natural movement of my body. I have not heard the cries of agony of those wounded and dying, yet within a few pages, George RR Martin envelops all my senses with the reality of ghastly battles of epic proportions.
"The battle fever. He had never thought to experience it himself, though Jaime had told him of it often enough. How time seemed to blur and slow and even stop, how the past and the future vanished until there was nothing but the instant, how fear fled, and thought fled, and even your body. "You don't feel your wounds then, or the ache in your back from the weight of the armor, or the sweat running down into your eyes. You stop feeling, you stop thinking, you stop being you, there is only the fight, the foe, this man and then the next and the next and the next, and you know they are afraid and tired but you're not, you're alive, and death is all around you but their swords move so slowly, you can dance through them laughing." Battle fever. I am half a man and drunk with slaughter, let them kill me if they can!"
Thus reads an excerpt from A CLASH OF KINGS, the mind-blowing sequel to A GAME OF THRONES. George RR Martin's seducing darkness of the bleak and torn Seven Kingdoms continues as we are presented with old and new characters in this startling but sinister tale of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Queen Cersei's son Joffrey ascends to the Iron Throne and continues with his sadistic reign of the King's Landing in the south following the death of King Robert. The grim Stannis and Renly Baratheon (brothers to Robert) believe themselves to be the legitimate heirs to the throne. This is the prequel and culminates to the final epic battle against Joffrey and the Lannisters. Stannis relies on the powers of his new faith in the God of Light and Lady Melissandre, yet not everything is what it seems, and darker powers seem to be at work in Stannis. Renly, in turn, relies solely on his charisma to draw and lead a vast army.
Rob Stark still battles to avenge his father's execution. Daenerys, the exiled heir of the former ruling family, continues the nurture of her three dragons. Jon, now part of the Nightwatch, travels further north to destroy the Wildlings and its leader, and hopes to gather more information on the evil that threatens the Kingdom, now that the dead seem to walk.
My favourite character is Tyrion Lannister, an evil but likeable character, who tries to tame his nephew, King Joffrey, and protect himself from the evil schemes of his sister, Queen Cersei.
Martin captures the horror of medieval battles, where survival was not only based on skill, but also on luck. There is nothing sweet, nothing heroic, but Martin leaves you tasting the blood and witnessing the gore of the battle between steel and flesh. The reader is not untouched by this, but is seduced by the pain and terror of these characters. The story is definitely graphic and aimed at the adult reader.
Martin is a superb storyteller (the best I have come across) and he infuses his characters with life, purpose and a sense of chaotic morality. The characters move between shades of grey, and are not strictly saints or sinners, but each is fallible in their beliefs. This is what makes the story so gripping and interesting. Be prepared for a roller coaster ride gone out of control. You never know what happens next, and it is hard to guess where Martin is going with this tale.
In A CLASH OF KINGS evil outwits good, if goodness can be found. Martin succeeds in disguising darkness as light, as it slays those who are deceived by it. The introduction of magic in this book is very subtle, but utterly believable.
The only complaint I have about this book, is that Martin is slow to reveal the grandness of the story, and I guess we will have to wait for A STORM OF SWORDS.