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A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire – George R. R Martin
A Clash of Kings is the second book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The book continues on from A Game of Thrones following the story of the Stark family and the wars that are raging across the Seven Kingdoms.
This medieval fantasy, where giants and dragons have become the stuff of memory, but tiny remnants of magic still remain, follows an ensemble cast of characters all of whom face a different side of war:
Bran Stark, the sweet but brave disabled Lord of Winterfell, left behind by his brother who is away fighting, finds himself fighting battles in his own way – addressing issues of responsibility, maturity and a deep and intriguing connection between Bran’s broken body and the wild freedom of his direwolf Summer.
Arya the youngest of the Stark women, whilst hiding her identity from her brother’s enemies is attempting to return home to the great castle of Winterfell. Along the way she sees many disturbing sights, treating the reader to the horror and pain experienced by civilians during war. Arya’s little band of travellers face their own battles and eventually are captured and put to work in an emery castle. Here Arya learns the price of her actions, both for the best and the worst.
Sansa, Arya’s elder sister is being held at court, betrothed to the boy king, Joffrey. Sansa is abused and mistreated and yet is ever elegant and lady like, whilst the Stark’s bastard brother Jon Snow has joined the honourable Night’s Watch. An order of men once known for their bravery in the protection of the realm from the savagery of the Wildings, who have now disintegrated into a small number of punished criminals and strays entrusted with the upkeep of a wall of ice, miles long and 700 feet high. Jon and his companions have ventured past the Wall into the forests beyond in search of answers to many a dark and disturbing question. Whilst away Jon is tested in many ways; his bravery, his chivalry and finally his commitment to the brotherhood of the Night’s Watch.
Child queen Daenerys, the last daughter of House Targaryen the usurped kings of the Seven Kingdoms, has emerged from the burning funeral pyre of her husband with three dragons. She and her dragons and the remaining loyal members of her tribe travel across barren deserts and into alien cities in search of an army and vessels to take them back to Westeros, so Dany can reclaim her throne. Whilst on her journey she finds herself in the presence of bejewelled merchant sailors and strange, exotic wizards. She must travel into the darkness of the House of the Undying, an enchanted temple, to discover the truths of both her future and her families’ past.
Finally the lives of four adults Lady Catelyn Stark, Ser Davos Seaworth, Theon Greyjoy and Tyrion Lannister are opened up to the reader. Tales of the pain of a mother and a widow’s tears pass through the voice of Catelyn Stark; whose attempts to bring peace to the realm are constantly foiled by the bloodlust of men. Whilst Ser Davos, a smuggler knight sees the world of the king he loved, Stannis Baratheon, turn to ashes at the hands of a dark priestess of a forge in god.
Theon Greyjoy, once the ward and hostage of Eddard Stark returns home on the preteens of rallying troops to serve his friend and lord, Robb Stark. His true intent is far more bloody and sinister however and he returns to Winterfell to sack the castle in the dead of night and claim it as his own. Happy to kill those he grew up amongst simply to gain his father’s approval, Theon commits acts of horror and is plagued by guilt and fear for his behaviour.
Tyrion Lannister is the dwarf uncle of the boy king Joffery. He finds himself at King’s Landing with his prostitute mistress Shae, where he realises the deceitful and dangerous nature of his sister – the king’s mother – Cersei. Tyrion prepares the city for war, whilst ever dodging the eyes and ears of his sister’s spies and hired knives. Despite being on the enemy side Tyrion is a strangely likeable character, sarcastic and cynical he provides a real quick comic wit to the book.
A Clash of Kings slowly brings together many of threads first laid out in A Game of Thrones, the future paths of characters crystallizing, the deceitful intent of some taking bloody form and the fears of others coming to painful fruition.
As with the first book the end of many of these chapters leaves you hanging from a cliff by your finger-tips. By moving from one character to another you rarely feel settled enough to put the book down, constantly feeling the need to read on to find out the fate of your favourite characters. In many ways this is great because it gives that book a real can’t-put-it-down aspect; however it also causes some of the stories to loose their momentum just as they reach their peak. Often the thrilling and intriguing stories of Bran and Jon are stopped for several chapters and then returned to several days or weeks after the closure of the last. To Martin’s credit he always returns to the cliff hangers, explaining them through conversations between characters or secret thoughts of the narrator. Yet at times this goes beyond intriguing and you just find yourself annoyed and frustrated; cursing Martin for page after page because he is heavily hinting at the resolution but seems reluctant to give it to you. Fortunately the resolutions themselves have yet to be a let down.
Another of the books’ flaws is that some of the characters simply stand stronger than others. Dany seems to fade in and out of being truly interesting and intriguing and into simply a stranger in a foreign land, whose motivation and personality is lost in the description of an exotic city. Sansa on the other hand travels no where yet it is only the odd relationship that develops between her and the Hound (the king’s most trusted swordsman) that makes her chapters of any interest. The abuse she suffers at the hands of her betrothed is unpleasant yes, yet very little seems to happen and her chapters seem to drag past between the highest moments of drama in the other chapters.
The drama and thrill of the book is well worth the flaws however. Martin has created a detailed and multi-faceted world with likeable and believable characters; most of whom are embroiled in stories that have you slavering for more. The stories are intricately inter-woven, although rarely directly connecting the strands of relationships and memories trail all the way through and although you find yourself temporarily devoted to the narrative of Jon or Arya you will have no trouble sinking back into the stories of Bran and Catelyn Stark.
Clash of Kings is a highly recommended piece of intelligent and intriguing adult fantasy. Aspects of horror and thriller and truly disturbing subjects run like the under current of a frozen stream throughout the book; sex and tragedy and death rich in the air of the city and the wilderness alike. Winner of the 1999 Locus Award for Best Novel.
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings -- cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings' laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings' mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings' power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don't find her first.
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