on 27 July 2013
The problem with such a consistently amazing author is that it's hard to find new things to say when reviewing them, at least as far as talking about the writing goes. George R R Martin still uses a winning formula in A Clash of Kings as he does in A Game of Thrones. Thorough world-building + epic scope + complex characters + linguistic mastery = fantastic writing.
I'd talk about the plot, which of course changes from book to book, but Martin's stories are always so chock full of twists and turns that every reader should discover for themselves, and I definitely do not want to be responsible for giving any spoilers. What I can say about the plot is that I love how thick and complicated it is - and again, this holds true for any of the books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. There's always so much going on at once, and actions have knock on consequences that then prompt other characters to take other measures... all interlinked and connected. Again, this just adds to the realism and authenticity that this series feels imbued with. Something that really disappoints me about some books is that authors dumb down the complexity of events and talk down to the reader - for example, omitting or simplifying events, conflating characters, or repeatedly spoon-feeding the reader information that the characters themselves already know full well. Personally I want to read a plot as thick as ASOIAF. I shouldn't have to praise George R R Martin for trusting his readers to understand and enjoy a sophisticated plot - we should expect this high standard from every novel.
If I start raving about detailed and immersive Martin's world is I'll start repeating myself from my A Game of Thrones review. Needless to say I loved it. These books suck me into their world and I don't want to put the books down at all once I open them. And I'm almost tempted to say the alternating POV chapters are a tease, giving you just enough to make you happy but cutting you off when you want more. George R R Martin is a genius.
on 24 July 2012
Where the first book belongs to Ned Stark, this second is owned by Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf lord who rises to the challenge of curbing his psychotic nephew's worst excesses (said psychotic nephew being King of the realm). Westeros is now at war, with kings lining up to stake a claim to the Iron Throne of the realm, and accordingly this is a war novel, packed with politics and intrigue to break up the battles. It is in watching the charismatic Tyrion discovering, at last, how he can best find a place in the game of thrones at which he excels. As the book builds towards the battle of King's Landing, he thrives on the chaos and preparation despite himself, and you can't help rooting for him despite his unfortunate ancestry. As ever with this series though, singling out this strand of the massive plot necessarily does disservice to others, and the way that they weave together to deliver an epic, captivating story.
on 5 June 2012
I've just finished reading A Clash of Kings for the second time, this reading co-inciding with the series finishing on Sky Atlantic. There's lots to get your teeth into with this rather huge installment. While it may look around the same size of A Game of Thrones, the font is much smaller and in reality, this is a much bigger book. And where the opening to Martin's epic series has to contend with setting the scene and world building, the story here really takes off and plunges us deep into the machinations of an empire gone mad.
We have several Kings, lots of cut-throats, an inordinate amount of political manouvering and backstabbing, and a few weighty battles thrown into the mix. For sure it's a heady brew, one which is made all the more powerful by Martin's persecution of his characters, and willingness to dispense with people we've come to love, or at least empathise with. Good characters do bad things, bad characters do worse and overall you begin to get the sense of the greyness of the characterisation. There's barely any black and white, good guy/bad guy characters here, as everyone is so grey and dare I say it...authentic. And this is the true strength of Martin's writing in my opinion.
Everyone is so believable, the writing feels so real. And as you progress through this installment you really do get a sense of everything descending into chaos. It's fabulous, fabulous stuff, and certainly at this stage in A Song of Ice and Fire, I can honestly say Martin has no equal.
on 16 November 2001
If you want clean cut heroes, buy another book. Every character is more venomous than the last. You find yourself unwillingly fascinated by the depths of brutality and depravity that even the most amiable can reach. And for all that, I couldn't put the evil thing down. For every horror you suffer you're rewarded with a stroke of humanity that seems all the more poignant against the dark backdrop.
The chances are that if you're thinking of reading Clash of Kings then you've already read and enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire (1) - A Game of Thrones: Book 1 of a Song of Ice and Fire. Conversely, if you didn't enjoy the first volume of A Song of Ice & Fire then I doubt you'll be coming back for more.
That makes this review somewhat redundant, and for that reason I almost didn't bother writing one. However, I do try to review most things I buy through Amazon so for the sake of completeness here we go...
As the review title suggests, A Clash of Kings maintains the high standards set by the previous volume. The writing, characters and plot are all just as strong, and as the saga unfolds you'll find yourself drawn further into the worlds of George R.R. Martin has created.
As with GoT, each chapter of the book is narrated from a single character's point-of-view. However, not every character who featured in GoT gets their own chapter or chapters in A Clash of Kings. Dany, Tyion, Arya, Theon Greyjoy and Jon Snow all feature heavily, whilst others such as Robb Stark and Jaime Lannister hardly feature at all. Depending on who your favourite character from the first book is, this may be either a source of disappointment or extreme joy. Personally I didn't have a particular favourite, but I did appreciate the focus on the ever entertaining Tyrion.
Martin also adds in new characters, all of whom add further depth to the story, and one of whom, Davos Seaworth, is even given chapters told from his own perspective. I especially liked this, as Davos is older than many of the other major characters in the book and this lends a fresh if world weary perspective to events.
Magic is also more to the fore in this second volume. Its significance and influence is still limited but its use is more overt than in GoT. If you're not a big fan of more hardcore 'fantasy' plot devices you might worry that this will be off-putting. Let me reassure you that it doesn't detract from the story and Martin has integrated the more fantastical elements so that the world he has created remains a believable place.
Finally, if you're coming to A Clash of Kings after watching Season 2 of Game of Thrones on TV then do not expect a direct translation from screen to page or vice-versa. Whilst Season 1 of the TV show stuck pretty closely to the source novel, A Clash of Kings is too dense a novel to translate so easily to the screen. As a result the narrative pace of the TV show is far quicker than the book and elements of volume three, A Song of Ice and Fire (3) - A Storm of Swords Complete Edition (Two in One), have been integrated into Season 2 of the show. Both TV show and novel work well in their own right, but they are very different animals.
Having enjoyed both A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings I will be coming back for volume 3 in due course. As I read volumes 1 and 2 back to back however, I'm taking a break before I tackle the next stage of what is an undeniably compelling saga.
George R.R. Martin has certainly not lacked for scope or ambition, when conceptualizing the series. The book continues the gripping tale introduced in A Song of Ice and Fire (1) - A Game of Thrones, and follows a myriad of characters and events, happening semi-concurrently. It is certainly not something for the less concentrated, and perhaps not best enjoyed during the commute or in 15 minute stints before going to bed, due to all the balls the author keeps in the air at the same time.
If there is a series that definitely needs a list of all the houses and their main players appended, this is certainly it (and one of the few instances, where I felt that looking through it was helpful).
Still, if you are prepared to dedicate longer stretches of time, and some concentration to the book, the story makes your patience worthwhile. It is relatively lively and dynamic on the one hand, and continues with the very back stabbing political environement from the first book. In addition to all the elements present in the first book, the magical / sorcerous element, battles and salivating descriptions of every single dish consumed by the entire list of characters (if you ever read anything by Frank Tallis - i.e. Deadly Communion, you will know what I mean) are new / much more prominently present. Both the newly hatched dragons in the South and the re-invigorated Others in the North, as well as the occassionally appearing servants of the Light God R'hllor slowly transform the series from a primarily medival society into something with a true touch of fantasy.
With so many kings in the land, all interested in the less than comfortable Iron Throne, there is butchery and Borgia-like scheming aplenty. On top of this, the characters luckily have some very human vices, making even some of the more unsavory ones more likeable.
Unlike in the first book, none of the main characters are killed off, so one still follows many, with chapters following and being named after the most prominent players within them.
The ~700 tightly typed pages may deter some but overall the book reads very well and quickly. And if you like long books / sagas, there is three more volumes available immediately, with the sixth installment being just around the corner (fifth book but the third is split in two).
Last but not least, it is somewhat explicit both in terms of violence and sexuality - not like Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself: Book One Of The First Law (Gollancz S.F.) - but more than one would preferably expose early teens to.
on 19 June 2008
Picking up right where 'A Game of Thrones' left off, 'A Clash of Kings' is just as gripping as its predecessor and is a very captivating book. The series main strength is the presence of some fantastic characters, most notably Tyrion Lannister, one of the best anti-heroes I've come across in fiction. One thing that must be made quite apparent though is that one should utterly ignore the ridiculous quote on some versions of his books that George RR Martin is 'the American Tolkien.' Other than the fact that they both have two 'R's' in their name and have books on sale in the 'Fantasy' section of your local bookshop, there is no call for comparison. Tolkien invented modern fantasy and set out a template which far too many authors have simply ripped off (the unlikely hero, the quest, the band of heroes etc.) Martin deliberatley ignores or subverts these conventions and indeed his work is much closer, in the main, to historical fiction. To sum up; there's no reason to suppose a fan of Tolkien's will enjoy Martin's style.
On the positive side: Martin is a very good writer. The plot is intricate and epic, and the dialogue is far beyond the vast, vast majority of fantasy novels. As well as that he's writing for the adult market; there's plenty of adult humour and situations, while there's a goodly, but not gratutious amount of swearing. It all adds to the realism of the book. You really get the sense that you're reading a warts and all account of a bygone era. Too often fantasy writers aim for the young adult end of the market and end up offering up incipid novels in which nobody (even the most hardened warriors) ever curses, has sex or uses the toilet.
On the negative side: Martin is far better at the 'swords' end of the 'swords and sorcery' business, to the extent that the 'magical' elements of the story (such as they are), feel out of place. It's rather like reading a blood and guts account of the Wars of the Roses when all of a sudden a warlock shows up. The sections that involve magical elements are by far the weakest parts of the book.
And one MAJOR gripe I have is that for all his skills with words, Martin's characters seem utterly incapable of using more than two words to describe the male and female genitals (a hint, they're both 'C' words). It's not a matter of prudishness, it's simply that the English language contains an unbelievable wealth of words for human anatomy and yet Martin can't seem to get away from those two terms. In every intimate scene between two characters whether higborn or peasant, male or female etc. they all talk like sailors. Indeed none of the sex scenes in the first two books are very appealing. Rather than offering a tender riposte to the savagery on display in the rest of the book, sex is rough and unpleasant throughout.
That said the good parts far outweigh the bad, and it's a fantastic series of books so far; captivating, well plotted, and well worth investing time in.
on 12 September 2006
"A Clash of Kings" continues the epic saga begun in "A Game of Thrones". After the death of the previous king, there emerge 4 or 5 other characters who believe they have a valid claim to the throne.
Martin uses the same writing style pioneered in the first book where each chapter is written from the viewpoint of a key character. However, whereas in the first book, it really drove the story on, here it tends to be used as a cheap plot tool to make each chapter appear exciting, even when the only exciting part is the last paragraph. To be fair, this is only the case in the first half of the book, where very little seems to happen except a long list of lords and knights. After the midway point (the book is around 700 pages), it improves immeasurably, with every character's chapters becoming more and more exciting.
I am pleased to report that there is an increase in magical occurrences and even though it is still quite subtle, it definitely seems that it will play an increasingly important role. Balancing this however, is that this book as a whole has a distinctly depressing flavour to it, with the "good" characters never really succeeding. Even at times when they appear to be on the up, something will happen to snatch it away. I am all for unhappy endings, but because it seems so endless, it does drag the pace down somewhat.
As I'm sure everyone would say, there are characters that are more enjoyable than others. Tyrion's chapters are consistently the most exciting and varied, although I also enjoyed the Jon, Bran and Catelyn sections. However, moreso than in the first book, there are character stories that never really rise above average, namely Davos, Theon and Sansa. Arya and Daenery's sections are somewhat divorced from the main story, but are both suitably entertaining, with promise of an exciting progression in the next book.
To summarise, I didn't enjoy "A Clash of Kings" as much as "A Game of Thrones", with there being more negative points than there were with the first book. Having said that, it did become very exciting and left a good number of cliffhangers to keep you wanting more. All in all, though, it makes rating the book a little tricky. I rated the first book as a 4, since I only give 5 stars to my absolute favourites. In the end, I have gone with a 3 rating because my ultimate rating guide is how much I enjoy something.
I don't mean this review to sound overly negative though, since it does have its strengths and as such, I will buying the next book, albeit in the hope that it is a little more consistent.
on 4 June 2001
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.
on 8 August 2011
Having devoured 'A Game of Thrones' I was eagerly awaiting my next fix with 'A Clash of Kings' and it did not disappoint on any level. Not normally a fantasy reader but this stuff is mind-boggling in its depth and alive with rich characters you find yourself caring about and plenty you'd not want to meet in even a light alley! For all the hugeness of it's scale it's still very easy to read, don't be daunted by the size of the work - read it, you won't regret it.