I have to admit I was a little wary about journeying through book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire series. The first instalment, A Game of Thrones, was good but long and ever-winding. As I began A Clash of Kings, I found nothing to be different. However, the story line had picked up a great deal, with a lot more excitement and a lot less laying of the background. Plus, by now, I had honed my already fantastic “skimming” skills to scan an entire chapter in 30 seconds or less to ascertain whether it was one I would be interested in paying deeper attention to or not. I was pleasantly surprised to note that while the boring chapters were boring, I tolerated them well because the interesting chapters were uh-may-zing!
If you feel like your dragging yourself through the first half of A Clash of Kings, take it from me: the second half is fantastic. I got into bed last night at 9:30 and resolved to read just a couple of chapters to feel like I got ahead. At 1:30 in the morning I had finished the book, huddled under my blanket and vaguely becoming aware of cramps from not having moved from my position the entire time. Through my reading, I tried to make mental notes of things I wanted to mention in this post and hopefully chat about with fellow readers.
In case you haven’t noticed by now or you haven’t read the series yet, these are violent and unsparing books. There’s rape and unyielding tempers in every chapter. I know that the TV show is wildly popular, but I’m not sure I’d be able to stomach watching these books come to life. In my imagination, I have control over how bloody things get and how fast I can skip over a man being scourged to death. George R. R. Martin doesn’t mince his words and isn’t afraid of affecting his audience. That’s what I like to call a brave author. At the same time, none of it is forced. I don’t roll my eyes and sigh at every paragraph of brutality thinking “There he goes again, we get the point dude”. It simply flows, which isn’t easy to do.
With A Game of Thrones, I found the plot and writing to be very realistic and saucily historical. It was like watching a behind-the-scenes video of the true gore, lust, and lack of honour behind those haughty, high-born medieval families. Aside from two or three chapters here and there of the dead coming to life and dragons being hatched, I barely remembered that this book was also classified as fantasy. In A Clash of Kings, the fantasy elements slowly became clearer. At first it threw me off because I had become accustomed to everything being very realistic. Martin leaked the ‘unnatural’ plot points in very slowly, as if dropping tiny dots of ink into a pool of water, waiting and watching as the inky puddles blended and spread. I’ve never read a book that introduced fantasy so slowly into the plot; usually if it’s a fantasy book the dragons are already ablaze and the shape shifters are already walking the lands. Here, A Game of Thrones built a web of plot-lines between what feels like 20 families all based on realistic human flaws and greed. A Clash of Kings is where we start to see that not everything is truly normal. Make no mistake, the fantasy incorporated here so far has been nothing but dark and haunting. Reading certain parts in the dead of night, I found myself feeling uneasy and getting goosebumps. There’s no broomsticks and snitches here, I’m afraid. Marin has no qualms with describing a scene or two of odd, but terrible happenings. I find it fascinating because I can’t wait to see how he ties it all in to the grander scheme of the series.
The character development did not disappoint me in A Game of Thrones and frankly impressed me further in A Clash of Kings. Some men and women are very one-dimensional, with only one particular aspect that encompasses their personalities. The others are as complex as any human being and Martin exposes their strengths and weaknesses alternately, never failing to let us know that there is more than meets the eye to each person in the story. Some characters have grown stronger from the first book and really captured my heart here while others I disliked from it only appear stupider in the second. A prime example of this are sisters Sansa and Arya Stark. Sansa is a doe-eyed, innocent little girl who believes in courtesy and lady-like behaviour and thoroughly lacks a backbone. Arya was a wild, untamed, and sometimes precocious child. After being forced into circumstances that I wouldn’t dream of surviving at her age, she grows up too fast but displays an immense wealth of wit and courage. Arya was a tolerable, fun character for me in A Game of Thrones but in A Clash of Kings I find myself eagerly waiting for her chapters to come around. She has quickly evolved into being one of my favourite characters. Sansa, whom I didn’t like in the first place has only lost my favour even more in the second book. However, it speaks highly of Martin’s writing that I can still feel sorry for Sansa at times in the story.
What I was most taken with throughout was Martin’s ability to write the fast-moving chapters. It makes me forgive him for the slower, more boring ones because when you finally get to one of the good ones, your heart races and your jaw drops. The horrors that unfold, the battles that rage out of control, the characters being confronted with ultimatums, sex, or their worst fears–it’s all fantastically written. I can honestly say that I was ready to stop reading around 10:30pm, but then I read a page or two into the next chapter and I was suddenly alert and ready to devour the rest of the book. Sometimes I wish that all of Martin’s chapters were this tantalizing, but maybe if they were I’d appreciate them less. His calm before the storm may be less than stirring but the storm sure as hell rocks the reader and leaves them begging for more.