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 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.
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 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 16 April 2016
‘....the primrose path of dalliance....’ (Shakespeare: ‘Hamlet’ I:iii)
‘A Clash of Kings’ is the second in the series entitled –‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by G.R.R. Martin. I’ve kept away from the TV series and had thoroughly enjoyed ‘A Game of Thrones’ –much to my surprise. Initially ‘A Clash of Kings’ appeared disappointing but very quickly perhaps my two favourite characters, Arya Stark and Tyrion Lannister, brought me back into line. Even so they were not to prove enough.
Arya’s escape, disguised as a boy, was immediately riveting as danger came not only from the Lannisters but from also her companions. In her position she’s in the forefront of what are the nastier scenes in the book: ‘Arya saw burned bodies impaled on sharpened stakes atop the walls, their hands drawn up tight in front of their faces as if to fight off the flames that had consumed them.’ But then her adventures appeared into what Bunyan might have declared a ‘Slough of Despond’ with one miserable form of captivity following another.
Tyrion Lannister remains my favourite, being, in my opinion, twice as intelligent as anybody else – note his ruthless removal of Janos Slynt from power, his brutal open assessment of King Joffrey as a ‘spoiled witless little boy’, his control when despotism is shaken by the mob.. He often produces snappy epigrams (e.g. ‘power is a mummer’s trick’, ‘Sorcery is the sauce fools spoon over failure to hide the flavour of their own incompetence’) so no wonder ‘The Wit & Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister’ has been published.
Theon Greyjoy appeared as a promising figure with an air of independent arrogance and an internal war between the practices of his birth-father (Dalon Greyjoy) and his foster-father (Eddard Stark), somehow entangled with naivety and immaturity. The novel almost revels in the disintegration of his personality.
King Stannis APPEARS imprisoned by his ambition to look out at the world through bars of fawning counsellors and turncoats while unburdening his true feelings to such as Ser Davos. But why doesn’t he break out until it’s too late?
Jon works away in near isolation beyond the Wall, his motivation circumscribed by the oath taken by all who’ve ‘taken the Black’ : ‘Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honour to the Night’s Watch, the this night and all the nights to come.’ Surely he is not doomed to wither away in that prison, shackled by such an oath?
There are odd moments breathing life into low-key characters, such as for Catelyn during the nightmarish experience in Renly’s tent (though I found Brienne far more interesting) or the ex-smuggler, Ser Davos, smuggling Melisandre to......... [no spoiler here] or Jon’s penetration of what lies beyond the wall.
Daenerys Targaryen continues to disappoint. She is brave and ruthless and a worthy leader of her (adopted) people, now shrunk to a pitiable force to what it was once. And yet that storyline stretches credibility – would the Dothraki (clearly based on 13th century Mongols) have followed a woman, and a trio of dragons doesn’t mollify my lack of belief. I understand she’s one of the more popular characters in the TV version – perhaps she’s a more fitting HERO figure (N.B. the lack of gender differentiation) for the period since 2006 with the greater female escape from their traditional SUPPORTIVE role (compare the now notorious ‘Janet & John’ books). However, for me, that doesn’t make her fit easily into a fantasy world with late medieval trappings. How does she manage to elude her own murder and the butchery of her ‘pets’? Often the speeches in these chapters SINK to the style of Victorian historical fiction or the ‘grandeur’ of Tolkein at his worst. I’m sure there’s a crucial role for her in the later books but herein she’s irrelevant.
The author has a great power of descriptive writing as here: ‘Sometimes the stones seemed to drink up noise, shrouding the yards in a blanket of silence. Other times, the echoes had a life of their own, so every footfall became the tread of a ghostly army, and every distant voice a ghostly feast’. The description of the seven gods (Father, Mother, Warrior, Smith, Maid, Crone and Stranger) is magnificent, though surely belonging to an era almost a millennium before the setting of the novels (even allowing for traces of Mallory’s ‘Mort d’Arthur’ at the staged events). However, this ability can stray into areas filled with atmosphere, as in the visit of Daenerys to the Undying, stretching imagination to the limit and, to my mind, beyond into the crass and absurd. He’s also a great chronicler of battles, whether on land or sea, employing his mastery of detail to drag the reader into the horrors of medieval warfare. Even so, I consider he underplays the strength of castles which, by the historical setting the novels mimic, ensured all hope rested on the open battlefield – read any history of the Wars of the Roses (1455-85) to see what I mean, Greek fire (aka ‘green fire’) is described far more vividly than in any description of the Byzantine ‘secret weapon’ I’ve ever read. Here’s one example: ‘.... blackened bodies were floating downstream beside him, and choking men clinging to bits of wood. Fifty feet high, a swirling demon of green flame danced upon the river. It had a dozen hands, in each a whip, and whatever they touched burst into fire....’ But therein lies a weakness which I see growing in this series and so my title above.
Overall, I enjoyed the book but I’m only giving it 4 stars because it was disappointing compared to ‘A Game of Thrones’. As feared, in my review of that book, the dragons have reared their ugly heads and, for me, with them the clammy grasp of fantasy. I really only enjoyed the chapters relating to Tyrion and Arya (despite occasional extreme nastiness) - the rest being either ‘satisfactory’ or mildly disappointing. I’m bowing out of reading the rest of the saga because I feel the author’s fallen into a desperate search for an ending and failing. Why? I sense the story’s run away with him – as I’ve encountered from personal experience. By the end of this book I fear it’s almost out of control – and the reader’s defence of checking their memory, in undermined by the limited chapter headings – especially if, like myself, you’re using a Kindle. I understand the original plan was to be for seven books. Has the author found it challenging to ‘stretch’ that original plot over that restriction (or been enticed by demands of fans and TV)? Hence the multiplication of sub-plots, the intrusion of ‘historical background’ (Tolkein shoved most of his into appendices), the extensive description of minutiae of feasts, tourneys, costume and topology, the intrusion of names and family groupings (most of which have shifting loyalties). All these slow down, if not strangle, plot development which was what attracted me in the first place.
On 13 April 2016 I examined aspects of the whole series on Amazon and especially looked at the percentage of ‘poor reviews’ (4 or 5 stars). These were 4.66% of the total for Book 1 but then gradually dropped (the readership adjusting itself) to 1.61 for Book 3 (Pt.2). Then there’s a gap of 6 years before Book 4 when the general number reviews jumps but so does that of the ‘poor reviews’ (11.66%) and after another interval the general number falls but ‘poor reviews’ as a percentage rise to 18.58%. Comments in the reviews support what I thought was happening – ‘The author is having trouble in finding out where the story is going....’ (Book 4) and ‘.....incapable of discriminating between relevant, concisely written plot developments and waffling descriptions...’ (Book 5). I fear Book 6 will continue that negative trend for a work which started so brilliantly, especially as I would hate to give a ‘poor review’ for any part of this series.
One feature, however, I blame on Amazon. For most of the books the Kindle version costs £2 less than the paper-back (no printing, storage or distribution costs) but with Book 5 the Kindle version is £3 more expensive. Why?
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 15 June 2011
The second in Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series and sequel to A Game of Thrones, this is a mammoth book. It may only have 700-odd pages, but the text is small and it feels much longer. I don't want to go into to many details of the plot in case it spoils it for anyone. Suffice to say, the title is very accurate. Picking up where the first book left off, the Seven Kingdoms are once again divided, with multiple lords laying claim to the Iron Throne. We are finally introduced to Robert Baratheon's other brother, Stannis, who has succumbed to the persuasions of the Lord of Light, and Melisandre - the Red Woman - is using dark magic to turn events his way. There is much politicking, power-struggling, intrigue, murder, sex, violence and emotion. As is the style of these books, Martin continues to tell the story from multiple points-of-view, with each chapter devoted to a character, leaving them on mini-cliffhangers before returning to them several chapters later. Some of the characters return from the first novel, some are new. Some stories are resolved, others left hanging for the next book.
In some ways, I don't feel this one was as successful as A Game of Thrones or as awesome as the third book, A Storm of Swords. I can't quite put my finger on why - perhaps it is just that bit too long, too sprawling, too epic for its own good. Perhaps there are just too many paragraphs full of inconsequential character names, or pages describing the food at a banquet (at times it reads like a flippin' menu).
Anyway, it's still a great read, and the twists and turns are many. It's most definitely for grown-ups. The characterisation is fantastic, the action brutal and - if you're anything like me - you'll feel like cheering every time certain characters names appear at the start of a chapter. I just prefer the books that came before and after.
Two stars might be a little harsh but this book certainly deserves no more than three stars, tops. I found it hard going and a real struggle to get through.
I think I have cracked George R. R. Martin's writing style. I have him sussed. It seems to be, hint at big events then strings things out for as long as possible, slowly building to said 'big event' which turns out to be nothing but a cliff hanger for the next book.
Don't get me wrong, parts of this book were a good read. There were certain threads and character arcs which I enjoyed, but they never really seemed to go anywhere; which is disappointing when you've struggle through this books many pages to read them.
I say struggled because I find George's writing style cumbersome and long-winded. Whole pages are given over to describing the food served up at a feast or the regalia worn by knights at court, and for me that is neither here nor there: Just get on with it George!
Plus, you find yourself enjoying, or rather, wanting to read certain characters story lines, yet others not so. You end up having favourites and others you just want to get through. For me, I liked reading about Tyrion, Arya and Jon Snow but hated the chapters devoted to Catelyn & Daenerys. Every time I came up to a chapter of theirs in the book I thought, "Oh no, not them again... OK, let's just get this over with."
A Clash of Kings was not a smooth read and I had to force myself to get through it. I am unsure whether or not to start the next book as I fear more of the same. I think it'll just be easier to watch the TV series. At least I can fast forward the bits with Catelyn in then. The only thing spurring me on is that I have bought the box-set, but then I found out even that isn't complete - he still has more to write?!!!
Really? Seven books isn't enough for you? Come on George, stop milking it. Wrap things up or at least step up the pace. These two books could be condensed into one book with ease and I am really not enjoying the long slog to get through them.
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.
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.