A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings is the second book in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. The Seven Kingdoms are beset by four Kings, all seeking to rule. The Starks, wolf-lords of the North, are scattered: Arya and Sansa hostage, Robb at war, Bran and Rickon learning to govern Winterfell. The Lannister host led by Lord Tywin opposes Robb Stark, and Tyrion is set to govern King's Landing -- if he can survive Joffrey's whims and Cersei's cunning. Theon Greyjoy comes into his own. Renly and Stannis battle for the loyalty of the southern lords, and a new player is introduced into that conflict -- a player that bodes ill for the future. And through it all, the threat in the North grows stronger.

The sequel to A Game of Thrones is exceedingly well written, in a brutal and gritty kind of way. This is epic fantasy, to be sure, but never mistake it for a children's book! The full ugliness of life in the medieval period is present here, and the viewpoints are not confined to the scented nobility. Whores and butchers, starving children and rapists, false knights and true sellswords, treachery and treasure, they are all here: the faces of men we prefer to hide from one another are all revealed by the trying times of the war.

There can be no doubt that this is a dark and vicious novel, even a depressing one in some ways. But that's not all. There are victories to savor, and there are knights who are true, and not all dragons must be slain. Say, rather, that this is a novel of people at their best and their worst, trying to make their way in a world where the strong rule.

And there are hints of greatness to come. Where A Game of Thrones was shocking in its newness, A Clash of Kings begins to reveal deeper levels to the events. There is much more at risk than the throne in Kings Landing, and our young heros (Arya, Sansa, Robb, Jon, Bran) must begin to grow up and find a place in a world much crueler than they had ever imagined -- yet for the most part they begin to do so. It is impossible not to empathize with the characters as they struggle, and often fail, to overcome the challenges life has placed before them.

A Song of Ice and Fire has so far been a tour-de-force of epic fantasy, and this novel will not disappoint. This series is the best thing going in epic fantasy; there is nothing better being written at present, not even close. Comparisons to Tolkein are often overused for epic fantasy, and that comparison would fit poorly to this series, but it must be said: had Tolkein chosen to show the bitter truth of human nature, rather than tell his tales through the lense of legend, this tale would not be far removed from his work. It has the same power and majesty, while packing an emotional impact strongly resembling a gut-punch. Yet somehow the combination leaves the reader hungry for more.

This entry was published Sat Sep 04 13:18:43 CDT 2004 by Matthew and last updated 2018-06-08 01:37:39.0.

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