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4.6 out of 5 stars
A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Two
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on January 5, 2003
The bottom line: "A Clash of Kings" is good, but not as good as the original. It has the same basic structure as "A Game of Thrones", told in short chapters from many different viewpoints. Since the scope of the novel is a bit too big to tackle at one time, I'll just summarize the major points of what I liked and didn't like.
What's good:
The storyline remains well-written and unpredictable. As with the first book, "A Clash of Kings" is full of surprises. Characters never do what you expect them to do, plans have a tendency to not work out correctly, and Martin isn't afraid to kill off a major character when you least expect it. He still manages to steer clear of most cliches and avoids the dull tone that plagues many fantasy novels.
The chapters told from the point of view of Jon Snow, which are all set north of the wall, are excellent. Not only does Martin make you feel the desolation of the landscape and its effects on the Rangers, but his build up towards a climactic showdown is very frightening. Overall, this is the best part of the novel.
Most of the characters are still likeable and well-developed. Perhaps the best one in this volume is Catelyn Stark, who faces a lot of exasperating situations as she attempts to bring a close to the war. Bran and Arya's chapters are also very well-written.
Like "A Game of Thrones", "A Clash of Kings" includes plenty of detailed descriptions, and they are generally historically accurate in terms of the story's correspondence with the history of England and other regions of the world. Some people might find it tedious to read all the details about weapons and armor, ships, castles, and so forth, but I think that it helps draw readers in and makes the world more believable.
Lastly, Martin's ability to juggle all of his characters and plotlines at the same time is still pretty astonishing. He obviously put a great deal of thought into how this book needed to be organized, and paid attention to details such as ensuring that the timing of events in different locations makes sense.
What's not good:
One of the best things about "A Game of Thrones" was that rather than using the stereotypical 'good vs. evil' storyline, Martin was careful to give everybody a human side and realistic motivations. However, in "A Clash if kings", the pendulum swings back the other way. There are big passages that exist only to remind us that the Lannisters are really, really, really evil. Also, Tyrion, who was one of the best characters in the original, is neither as likeable nor as funny this time. (Although he does have one hilarious line of dialogue near the start.)
It seems that Martin gave a little bit less thought to organization and pacing this time around. The result is a novel that's almost two-hundred pages longer and doesn't seem to be arranged for maximum effect. For example, there's a thirty page prologue that shows us Stannis Baratheon laying out his evil plans at Dragonstone, but I think that Ser Stannis would actually have been scarier if we didn't know exactly what he was planning.
Finally, Martin's attempts to expand the cast of characters and the number of forces at work in the story doesn't always add up logically. For example, near the start we learn that House Greyjoy has been amassing a gigantic fleet in the Iron Islands and preparing to attack the mainland. But he never explains why the possibility of the Greyjoy's joining the war never occurred to anybody else in the story.
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I was originally drawn to this series by some comments I read that favorably compared its author to JRR Tolkien--a parallel that Mr. Martin clearly encourages with his own prominent supernumeRaRy middle initials. While I find his Song of Ice and Fire similarly engaging and voluminous thus far, it's no Lord of the Rings. Yet why should it be? As a linguist and a scholar, JRRT spent years independently developing the languages, mythology, and political history of Middle Earth before turning Frodo loose within that world. In terms of depth and immersiveness, LotR derives incalculable benefit from the uniquely backward mode of its conception. It does not surprise me that other fantasy novels' settings often appear thin-fleshed and contrived by comparison (Frank Herbert's Dune being a rare exception).
While aSoIaF does exhibit some minor shortcomings in this regard, I think this sort of evaluation is ultimately unfruitful and misleading: Martin's strengths lie elsewhere. His aSoIaF reads as more medieval soap opera than epic literature, its vivid and immediate characterizations revealing the unspoken thoughts and emotions of the many protagonists. Although the supernatural exists, good and evil here are not personified as absolutes (cf. Sauron) but instead are manifest in human interaction, and their interpretation often depends on perspective. Events are told from the characters' point of view and are unavoidably filtered and colored by their egos. It is their hopes and fears, their stratagems and machinations, their interpersonal and physical conflicts that matter most in Martin's world. I wound up caring sincerely about Jon, Arya, Bran, and Tyrion--a dangerous undertaking, given Martin's unflinching (and admirable) refusal to shield his heroes from the Machiavellian, often lethal cruelty of their environment.
Several reviewers have decried or defended the graphic language that pervades these books. Martin deliberately aims for a certain coarseness, preferring blunt Anglo-Saxon words to flowery Latin cognates. This is intended to set a gritty, unsparing, medieval tone for the story, and apart from a few jarringly anachronistic turns of phrase ("butt cheeks", e.g.), it works well and is even refreshing, given the suffocating mawkishness of some other novels in the genre. Still, I must say I often found the continual parade of bodily functions, "whores" (willing and otherwise), and "Penthouse Forum"-style sexual conquests gratuitous and distracting, even juvenile at spots. Does the author's quest for ultimate realism require that his readers be privy to every bathroom break in the woods? At such times I felt grateful to Tolkien for all that he left implied or unsaid in LotR. I don't mind graphic sexual imagery used in moderation to serve plot or characterization, but reading Martin sometimes feels like eating an entire bottle of ketchup with a single hot dog (somewhat ironically, the Amazon review editors nixed the Tabasco metaphor I had originally used here). Sometimes, less is more.
As with the frequent long "roster for today's tourney" lists of names and house sigils, such bits are easily skipped over without detriment, but it would be perilous to conclude that Martin is inflexibly prolix and incapable of subtlety: Some of the most wrenching plot revelations--I'm thinking of one in particular involving Bran--are first conveyed within the space of a few disarmingly parenthetical remarks! So, you must also keep your eyes peeled, or be prepared to backtrack if you're skimming.
Notwithstanding my various criticisms, I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and consider it well worth the effort to read, even if the pace does flag somewhat in the 2nd book. I'm eager to read "A Storm of Swords" as well as the 4th book, after which I suppose I'll join the frustrated souls who impatiently await the concluding installments, wondering how (and if) Martin plans to wrap it all up. I give the series to this point a solid "B", or 4 stars, with Book 1 earning a B-plus and Book 2 a B-minus.
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on June 22, 2002
Overall I enjoyed most of the book quite a bit; however at several points I considered quitting the series because I think some details should have been cut out to move the story along quicker. The story line with Daenerys hardly made any progress during the book, yet we keep coming back to it. I thought a lot of the details of the Arya story line were excessive also. These are probably the two biggest examples, but I really think this problem permeates other areas of the book as well.
Having said all of that, one of my favorite scenes, which actually made me laugh out loud, involved some of the details of Theon's return to his native land, which others might view as unnecessary. There was also a scene with Daenerys in a magic house that could easily have been left out with no damage to the plot, but it did make for interesting reading. I guess this work must be a challenge to edit.
I do find myself caring about several of the characters. Tyrion is by far my favorite. Arya comes in second (although, as I mentioned before, I feel there is far too much detail provided on her situation). I always enjoyed coming back to the Tyrion story line and found the interaction between Tyrion and Cersei to be amusing, interesting and suspenseful - you just never know when one is going to make a mistake that will put him/her at the mercy(?) of the other !
The Kingslayer also shows some promise as being an interesting character. I look forward to reading more about him in the next installment.
I finished Clash a few days ago and initially considered laying off the series for a while; however I have to admit that I miss getting my daily updates on the progress of the characters during my train commute - so I think I may need to get it sooner than expected !
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on December 29, 2001
Upon reading the first book in this series (A Game of Thrones), I ran around for weeks, telling everyone that would listen that it was the best book I have ever read. So it was with a weird mix of anticipation and dread that I started A Clash of Kings. What if it wasn't as good?
Well, it was as good. The only reason I'm not giving it a 5 is because by the end of the book, I was starting to have a little trouble keeping all of the various characters, their machinations, the wars, betrayals, alliances, etc., straight. This is a REALLY dense, busy book; you have to pay attention when you read it.
After the shocking murder that threw the Seven Kingdoms into turmoil in Book One, the various Kingdoms are at war; No less than 5 different men are claiming the mantle of King.......
Joffrey Baratheon- son of the late King Robert....or IS he?
Renly Baratheon- Robert's younger brother. A great talker, but can he lead an Army?
Stannis Baratheon- Robert's older brother. He's lived in Robert's shadow for over a decade (Hating him all that time), and now he's ready to claim what he feels should have been his all along....by any means necessary.
Robb Stark- A 16 year old who has had the mantle of leadership thrust upon him, he fights more for revenge upon the people who tore apart his family than for power.
Balon Greyjoy- Father of Theon Greyjoy, Ward of Eddard Stark. While the other 4 armies fight in the open, he will sneak in and try to get revenge on his dead enemy.
Meanwhile, Danaerys Targaryen, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, struggles to raise an army, and reclaim her birthright. (Did I mention she's only 14 years old?)
And beyond the wall in the North, Mance Rayder is rallying an army of Wildlings, Wargs, Mammoths, Giants, and God-knows-what-else, in a bid to break through the wall, and take the Seven Kingdoms as his own.
And that's just the Cliffs Notes version.....There's intrigue, incest, sorcery, cannibalism, the walking dead, fratricide, rapes, murders, looting & pillaging...whew!
Martin, as in the last book, earns a ton of admiration for being able to juggle dozens of stories, told from 10 or 12 different perspectives, without confusing the reader (too much, at least!). After reading the first Two books back-to-back, I decided to read someting else before plunging into Book Three. Perhaps the truest compliment I can Give Mr. Martin is this: In the 4 days since I finished A Clash of Kings, I think of Arya, Sansa, Robb, Rickon, Bran, Jon, and the Wolves quite a bit. I can't wait to see what happens to them next, and fervently hope that they all make it through to the conclusion of the series alive.
Bravo, Mr. Martin!
Now on to A Storm of Swords!
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on November 29, 2001
Yes you heard me...this is what reading A song of Ice and Fire is like...reading a medieval epic poem. This is beyond high fantasy, this series( or saga) is told like a quasi-historical drama that reads like an epic poem ala the norse and germanic tales of Egil's Saga, Beowulf, Niebelunglied , Volsungs et all.
With that said...this is what sets this story apart from so many fantasy series...its not driven by the same old cliche of an all encompassing prophecy, with a central 'big baddie', nor is it soaked to the gils in magic..this story, like epic poetry, like history, is a HUMAN story...fate/providence/prophecy does not decide what happens so much as the characters themselve, their decisions, desires, wisdom and blunders.I mean there are moments in history or in an epic poem where you think to yourself'if only they would have done this instead...' thats what reading Matin does to the reader....make you truly hope the characters make the right decision..b/c in this series, blunders have fatal consequences, for the minor and major character alike. Also, like epic poetry..the characterization is more fleshed out in this series than in any other I have read. Now granted, I have not read many authors( only Goodkind and Jordan) but still, I have seen Martin avoid simple two dimensional characters- the ultra pious and honorable good guy and the unredeemably bad, bad guy. Martin's characters, like many in epic poems, and certainly thru medieval history, are more flavored than that..some are honorable, yet can be ruthless...some are ruthless and cruel, yet have a scrap of honor on some points. Again...this is a HUMAN story(saga) and no human is one sided.
On the other side, lets not forget that Martin bases his story on our medieval world..a time that was NOT pc by any means. So, in the story we have graphic violence, sex, mention of whoring, foul language, and adult themes...many reviewers have complained about this, all I can say is....have any of you read your history?? or your medieval lit? Need I remind you that the most vaulted medieval/renaisance writer in history(Shakespeare) had more scenes of butchery and bawdiness in his whole cannon than in this book? I mean..come on people..this is not sanitized disneyized fantasy here...its realistic. and if you examine the period this is 'set' in or the literature of that period...u will see that sex and violence was very much a part of that time period( as it is now) . If you just dont like that sort of thing in your fantasy, fine, but dont complain of excessiveness..If you think this is excessive, read Titus, or Song of Roland, of the Niebelunglied( a queen slew her own child to try and kill her brothers) and tell me which is more gory.
Now, to the book itself, lol..Martin, simply put ,is a genius at narrative. The reason why he eclipses epic poetry in my book is b/c he gives every chapter thru a pov of a character, which, simply put, manipulates the reader. Never have I ever had my loyalties to characters questioned as much as with this book...he simply does not let the reader polarize anyone in the book, or at least, not very many. Also, like Jordan, Martin is THE master of political machinations..and if you think the schemeing is excessive, read some medieval british history...that stuff is better than any cheasy soap, more so b/c it truly happened. The plots are so masterfully interwoven, its like watching a tapestry be spun right in front of you. Also on that note, b/c the narration is episodic( like epic poetry and history) rather than linear, Martin avoids the traps that befall other authors( Jordan); that being repetative narrative prose. An economy of well phrased words keeps the story moving and the pace very brisk. I moved thru Martin's 900 pagees in what seemed like no time at all..I cant say the same for 600 pages of Jordan.
So basically it comes down to this..If you like and I mean like the medieval time period- read this book.
If you like political fantasy-read this book
If you like realism, and dont mind adult themes- read this book
If you are tired of the same cliches..i.e'boy is plucked from obscurity, discovers latent magic, gets magic sword, falls in love with queen/princess..fights the evil dark lord and saves the day'- read this
IF you like minimal magic with maximum impact, by all means read this book
otherwise...im afraid you wont have much to look forward to.-A.N.
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on September 17, 2001
George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings (Bantam Spectra,
1999)

Martin continues on in his fictional depiction of the
Hundred Years' War. The throne has changed hands, the
exiled priness of the Targaryen line is marshalling
her forces, the Yorks-- excuse me, the Starks-- have
been declared the Kings in the North, and the
Baratheon brothers are squabbling amongst themselves
in the rural eastern bits of the kingdom. It all
sounds rather boring when put that way, but it isn't.
Martin has given us a worthy second installment in the
Song of Ice and Fire series.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Martin's
writing is that he's capable of juggling so many
different stories while enabling us to keep enough of
the details straight in our heads so we can pick them
up again easily. Most notable is the story of Daenarys
Targaryen, who gets very little screen time here, but
whose story is fleshed out immensely in book two.
Martin gives us quite a bit to work with in very few,
and very readable, words.

Winter is coming, and I'm quite looking forward to the
next book in the series. ****
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Shall I compare “A Clash of Kings” to Tolkien or Jordan?
Nope. Let’s try “A Game Of Thrones.”
Having read more of George R.R. Martin’s work than this series, I must apologize for inferring he has no love of language. That’s not true. The man can write; he’s written more novels than this one, and he is versatile. Therefore, I’m taking “A Clash of Kings” on its own merits. (Word of support: Martin is no Jordan/Tolkien clone.)
“Clash” introduces the Usurper Robert Baratheon’s brother Stannis, a contender for the Iron Throne, his brother Renly, and a priestess named Melisandre, who is perhaps the most frightening of any character Martin’s created so far. Martin does a good job of setting up opposing characters whose differences aren’t obnoxiously obvious; Stannis is grim for solid reasons, whereas Renly exudes the confidence of someone who has been loved all his life. (And by whom should be obvious to the reader—but I won’t give anything away). The Lannisters are digging in, with Tyrion the Imp taking the reins at King’s Landing; Robb Stark has seized the North; Daenerys continues her quest for ships and armies with which to retake her kingdom; and Jon Snow finds a threat beyond the Wall that could make the war for the Iron Throne look like child’s play.
The battle scenes are done well—the Battle of the Blackwater is a fine one—and the characters are beginning to evolve from the original sketchiness of “Thrones”. Tyrion is so clearly the smartest—and the best—member of the Lannisters, it’s hard not to root for the whole family to be washed out to sea and leave him in charge. Cersei is revealed as a woman of drive, ambition and energy smothered in her forced role of docile mother and wife—albeit it’s hard to sympathize, as this woman condoned the attempted murder of a child who witnessed her in an incestuous embrace—while Sansa simply becomes more hopeless and pitiful. A possible reason why the Stark children found the direwolves is made clear near the end of the book. And if anyone wanted someone else to despise besides Joffrey, Theon Greyjoy steps up with his ambition to earn glory for himself by destroying the Starks.
I have complaints, but it’s nothing that probably won’t be taken care of in the following sequels. Arya becomes more repellent and aimless with every chapter. Bran’s fate in “Clash” is the most exciting thing to happen to him in the series so far. I wish someone would club Joffrey and drop him down the sewers, and I really wish Catelyn Stark would either go home or get ambushed. Yes, she’s Ned Stark’s widow, a grieving mother, etc. She’s also the woman who told her husband’s illegitimate son that she wished he’d been crippled just because he was another woman’s child—she is as hateful in her way as Cersei[...]
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on August 2, 2001
This is undoubtedly the best fantasy series to emerge in many years. The depth of characterisation, the scope of the tale, the range of peoples, houses and alliances all make for a complex and thrilling read.
This book develops more in the region of sorcery than the original. Old magics are awakening, and I just hope that they don't grow to dominate the series. I prefer the Sword to the Sorcery in these stories.
If there was any other disappointment for me it was in the failure of grand battles to materialise. I don't think Martin has the knack of being able to describe the grand movements of military hosts. His largest canvas was a huge naval battle, and it quickly became a confusing parade of ships names and uncertain outcomes.
Disappointments aside, the plot continues to thicken nicely and I will buy the third installment. However, I do not want to see another Robert Jordan series (wheel of time is into book what?....9 or 10?). I do not intend to pay for Mr Martins retirement, so if conclusions are not being alluded to by book three I may take my custom elsewhere.
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on July 16, 2001
"A Clash of Kings" got me through two long airplane trips in steerage class, plus several sleepless nights when I was trapped in a noisy Roman hotel with sixty Episcopalian choir boys.
For that I am grateful.
I won't admit to being addicted to Martin's epic medieval war fantasy, but I've already started Volume III,"A Storm of Swords," from his projected six-volume series, "A Song of Ice and Fire."
After finishing "A Game of Thrones (Volume I)," I wasn't sure how the author was going to extend his story to six, thousand-page volumes. However "A Clash of Kings" opens up many possible plot lines---there are five kings in Volume II as opposed to one king in Volume I, and they spend this book warring against each other. If you like to read about trebuchets that "turned living men into bone and pulp and gristle," and you know the difference between a mace and a morning-star, then you'll probably enjoy the battle scenes more than I did. Martin did his research on medieval weaponry and tactics, and his action scenes are totally riveting, even though ripped entrails, ichorous fluids, spastic colons, and roasting flesh are prominently featured.
I guess you can't scramble for thrones without breaking a few yokels.
Martin splits his narrative between ten different characters, eight of them continuing their stories from volume I:
· The Starks of Winterfell--- Lord Eddard of Winterfell's widow Catelyn, her daughters Sansa and Arya, her son Bran, plus Eddard's son, Jon. Catelyn's son Robb is crowned King of the North and spends much of volume II defeating the various armies fielded by Joffrey Baratheon's royal relatives.
· Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of the last Dragon-blood king and referred to as the 'Queen across the Water.' She spends volume II raising her three young dragons and outwitting the various and colorful folks who covet a flying lizard of their very own.
· Tyrion Lannister, the current Queen's dwarf brother and chief councilor to the under-age king, Joffrey Baratheon. Tyrion schemes with eunuchs, punishes traitors,defends his king, and dodges his sister-Queen's murderous henchmen. He has all of the best lines in the book and I love him dearly even if he does lose part of his nose.
· Theon Grayjoy (new) - once a ward of the Starks, now a scheming turncoat.
· Davos the Onion Knight (new) - a former smuggler who is loyal to the 'King in the Narrow Sea,' Stannis Baratheon. Davos and Tyrion Lannister are burdened with the main battle narratives, Davos from the sea and Tyrion from the besieged city.
Please don't try to read "A Clash of Kings" unless you've already finished "A Game of Thrones." You might be able to skip "A Clash of Kings" and go straight to volume III, although I wouldn't recommend doing so. Although there is plenty of action, not much happens to move the whole series forward in volume II. One of the five kings hooks up with a powerful fire sorceress, and in my humble opinion that is 'the' most important happening in "Clash".
However, we start to catch glimpses of the supernatural bones that support Martin's epic, e.g. the servants of the Drowned God, the followers of the Lord of Light, and evil sorcery beyond the Wall of ice. Martin is moving as slowly as the glacier beyond the Wall, but the first three volumes of "A Song of Ice and Fire" are compulsive reading.
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on March 18, 2001
Face it, people - Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series has become very ponderous and overwritten, and it should have been finished long ago. You'll be lucky if you can find one nugget of interesting plotline in his latest books, and any action at all. I used to buy each of his books when it came out in hardcover - but no more.
Now, Martin's series, on the other hand, shows a lot of promise. The first book, "A Game of Thrones", and now this one, are loaded with characters who never made me lose interest. And while there seem at first glance to be a few too many plotlines, Martin does an excellent job of holding all the threads together.
I'm looking forward to the third book. I want to find out how Danerys' story ties in with the others (there were hints toward the end of this book), as well as Jon Snow's. And I have a sneaking suspicion about Hodor, the dimwitted strongman who's become Prince Brandon's legs. Don't ask me why, but I have a hunch he'll become extremely important to the story as it goes on.
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