Jason Golomb's Reviews > A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
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Jan 23, 13

bookshelves: science-fiction, fantasy, fiction, epic, favorites
Read in January, 2013

Many editorial reviews of book (or movie) sequels claim that the second is as good as, or better than, the original. I read the same thing about "A Clash of Kings", George R.R. Martin's sequel to "A Game of Thrones". I was a bit skeptical, I mean...how can one not question whether Martin could duplicate what he accomplished in the first novel, let alone better it. "Thrones" is magnificently expansive and epic...how could book 2 match the energy and intensity?

Martin absolutely knocked the ball out of the park with "Clash". I don't know if it's better than "Thrones", but it's easily its equal. He takes the core set of surviving characters (Arya, Sansa, Bran, Catelyn, Jon, Cersei and the wonderfully rich Tyrion), and picks up almost immediately where "Thrones" left off. And I don't just mean in terms of plot, but also in building out his fantastic world of intrigue, adventure and politics.

"Clash" is complicated, intense and absolutely epic. It sprawls majestically over a widely varied physical and literary landscape. The politics within the plot, focused on four Kings battling over a land that's used to having only one, are intricate, but not difficult to follow. Martin's writing is clear, his dialogue is smooth and the interplay between characters is enjoyable and completely in sync with the overall tone and 'place' of the story. The book is very serious and heavy - at about 1,000 pages, the book is actually heavy, but I love the weightiness, with corresponding depth, of the story.

Like "Thrones", there's not a ton of fantasy in "Clash". It's very middle-ages-historical-fiction with a tinge of supernatural. There's more fantasy in this book than in the first, though, and it feels like it'll build into much more for the third book. There are dragons, but they set up a certain tone and act more as a plot device than anything else. There's no fire-breathing and attacking and destroying. There's further development around Bran's supernatural connection with his direwolf Summer, and we see that the bastard Stark, Jon, has a bit of the gift as well. There are a few more fantastical devices scattered throughout the book, which Martin develops slowly through his world's mythology rather than hammering in a slew of de facto dungeons & dragons.

The characters are Martin's true accomplishment. He feeds off a character's strengths and deficiencies, and each one is perfectly human and in some way relate-able. Individuals-as-'outsiders', is the base upon which the best characters are built. And he uses that foundation frequently. Tyrion, the dwarf prince, has become one of my favorite and most memorable characters in the series, and perhaps one of the most well-developed characters in any popular fiction. He's witty and smart, and sometimes obnoxiously flip. But his deep-seated insecurities which evolve slowly over the course of both of the first books make his chapters the most anticipated. Arya develops into a wonderfully three dimensional character as the tomboy princess cut off from her family, trying to survive and find a way back home. Sansa's princess-ly arrogance dissipates under the strain of trying to survive as a hostage, and finds friends in very un-princess-ly places.

There's no reason to read this book before the first. There's a wealth of back story upon which "Clash" is built. Some of which Martin explains, most of which he doesn't, which I found enjoyably and surprisingly subtle. I would've been more lost if I'd not read the books back-to-back. And yes, they're that good that I was willing to invest over a month of precious reading time in two 1,000-page books.

I'm looking forward to seeing HBO's creation of Martin's world of Ice and Fire coming this spring. Until then, I'll start digging into book 3 - "A Storm of Swords". I expect that the overwhelming wealth of positive reviews mean there's more of Martin's great stuff ahead.
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