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

Very good second volume in a series of fantasy novels

George R. R. Martin
A Clash of Kings
Bantam Dell, 1996
ISBN: 0-553-57990-8
969 pages

This brick of a book (969 pages of fairly closely-set type) is the second volume in George R. R. Martin's fantasy series "A Song of Ice and Fire". The series currently stands at four volumes and three more are projected. I have previously said that the first volume began the series only pretty well. This volume continues it rather better.

Some spoilers for the earlier volume follow. The series should be begun at the beginning.

The story lives up to its title. A character in the novel remarks that all sorts of people are calling themselves kings these days, and there sure are a lot of them. At the end of the first volume, young Robb Stark was proclaimed King in the North since the young Joffrey Baratheon who is ruling in the south isn't properly the heir of the previous king, Robert, whose death was engineered by Joffrey's mother's family. Dead King Robert's brother Stannis should properly be king and he intends to fight for the crown. But his younger brother Renly also calls himself king and intends to fight Stannis for the chance to fight Joffrey. And King Robert had himself unseated Mad King Aerys. His son died in the first book, but his daughter, lately the widow of a nomad chieftain, has come into possession of three baby dragons and intends to use them to put her family back in power. King Joffrey is quite young and the actual ruling is done by his mother Cersei (as regent) and his maternal uncle Tyrion (as the King's Hand). The two mistrust one another. You'll gather that the conflict is many-sided.

And then there's the fact that, instead of squabbling among themselves, these people should be preparing to defend against an attack coming from the far north, across the woefully poorly-defended Wall.

The first thing that Mr Martin does well is to tell the story in a way that lets the reader keep all that straight. Partly he does that by giving each chapter a title that's the name of one the nine characters whose point of view the narrator follows. And partly he does that by means of sharp, clear narration and memorable characters.

Another thing that Mr Martin does well here is build up to the action. This is a long book and it's early in a long series of books. So the pace is not going to be rushed and little is going to be resolved. Still, a lot happens and there is one large and important battle.

A third thing that Mr Martin does well here is to keep some of the more interesting characters on stage more than he did in the first volume. Tyrion Lannister, the clever and ironic dwarf, and Arya Stark, Robb's intelligent and tomboyish sister, are rather more interesting than those characters whose actions are determined solely by a desire for power or a notion of honor.

This is a fine book that drags not at all and I'm looking forward to reading the third volume.

There are various small hints in this book and the previous one that Mr Martin was familiar with Dorothy Dunnett's "House of Niccolò" series of historical novels.

Posted: Sun - December 6, 2009 at 09:01 PM   Main   Category: