Title: A Clash of Kings
Author: George RR Martin
Publisher: Bantam (USA), Voyager (UK)
Published: Generally available
The Seven Kingdoms are in turmoil, the Riverlands are in flames, the War of the Five Kings has started. King Joffry Baratheon holds the Iron Throne but is challenged on all sides, to the south and east his uncles Renly and Stannis Baratheon proclaim themselves the rightful heir’s to the throne and have amassed armies. To the north Robb Stark, now Lord of Winterfell and styling himself King of the North, leads his allies against Tywin Lannister and the might of Casterly Rock. And to the far west Balon Greyjoy proclaims himself King of the Iron Islands and sends his reavers to ravage the western coasts of Westeros.
While the great Houses choose sides in the distant East and beyond the Wall, new threats are growing.
This second novel picks up straight after A Game of Thrones ends. The war is in full flight and of all the books so far published, this features the most sword-on-sword action. Martin shows he’s as good at writing battles as he is intrigue, and the set pieces are well put together. After the loss of a proportion of the main characters during the second half of the first book, Martin steadily introduces new ones to replace them.
Renly Baratheon is expanded upon, and becomes more than just Robert’s brother who is mentioned in passing. We are also introduced to Stannis Baratheon; the exact opposite of his two brothers, Stannis is a serious man, think Eddard Stark then times by ten. However, he is not well loved by the smallfolk and struggles to garner support, but he holds the Imperial fleet and so commands the Western seas.
In the north, Theon Greyjoy’s family are introduced bringing fire and blood to the coasts. I feel in some ways the Ironborn missed the mark for me, styled on the real world Danes they are more vicious, more bloodthirsty, in some ways excessively so. Some come across as cartoony in their villainy, and I feel that perhaps Balon, Theon’s Father, was underused in favour of his brothers.
Again each chapter is written from an individual’s viewpoint; as with the first novel some miss the point. I still struggle with Catelyn Stark’s self doubt and recriminations, which are ramped up a notch with the death of Ned. She now also has the added worry of the ever widening war and the safety of her children, two of whom she believes are captives of the Lannisters in Kings Landing. But unlike the first book, this time hers is the only POV I have a problem with. Sansa comes across better now that she’s removed her rose tinted glasses, and we start to see her view the world for what it is, she’s still a frightened girl and tries to do what she feels is the right thing, but the death of her Father hangs heavy on her.
Arya and Bran grow considerably during this book with their characters being given the lion’s share of action. In fact Arya’s individual journey from the daughter of a Lord, to a beggar, a thief and murderess is the most interesting of the book. Bran’s vivid dreams increase the supernatural elements, as Martin begins to weave in prophetic images, and the Stark children’s seeming ability to become one with their Direwolves.
But star prize has to go to The Imp, Tyrion Lannister: he proves to be the sharpest knife in his family's drawer. And despite his limitations, he manages to survive whilst every hand is against him. Watching it slowly dawn on him what his elder siblings have been doing, and to what lengths they would go in order to protect their secret, is mesmerizing. He is the perfect example of one of Martin’s characters that you really shouldn’t like, but you do. He’s a member of the family that seems to be at the heart of all that has lead to the war, and yet I find myself sympathetic toward him. He is a prime example of one of the many “grey” characters that live in Westeros: you know he’d stab you in the back for his own ends, but you know he’d be nice about doing it.