“A Clash of Kings” by George R. R. Martin (Bantam, 1999)

A Clash of Kings

The world of Westeros is changing, but winter is still coming.  The once proud king Robert Baratheon is no longer and what comes to be known as the War of the Five Kings is the new reality.  In George R. R. Martin’s second installment of the Song of Ice and Fire series – giving a whole new meaning to the term “epic” – the stage becomes ever larger, as he seems to become somewhat lost in his characters and their depths and complexities.  At times readers might be wondering why they are being served such a large chapter of a particular character that seems to be moving in no direction fast, nevertheless once the overall story starts moving towards inevitable the war and battles, the pages turn faster, and readers will be wanting to get to the end and find out what happens.

To the north beyond the wall the wildlings are amassing behind a man known as Mance Rayder, the so-called King-beyond-the-wall, as they prepare to attack the wall and infiltrate Westeros.  All that stands in their way is the weak army of the Night’s Watch, as this small number of the men in black with Jon Snow head out to put a stop to them.  In this saga, Snow will learn of this Mance Rayder, as well as one of the wildlings whom he becomes close to.

Far to the east across the waters, Daenerys Targaryen continues to rebuild her own army in a bid to take back the kingdom of Westeros and her royal lineage.  She travels with her consort to the renowned trading city of Qarth where she will face the ultimate test with powerful warlocks and the House of the Undying.  Meanwhile her three dragons continue to grow and become stronger and more deadly.

And in the heart of Westeros the war rages on.  Young Joffrey is arrogant, cruel, and impetuous, feeling he is in his birthright to be king of all the lands, while rumors run amuck of an incestuous relationship spawning this possibly illegitimate ruler.  Joffrey rules from King’s Landing with the might and support of the house of Lannister.  To the west is Robb Stark, the King of the North, looking to unite his lands and protect his people.  So far he has never lost a battle, but gains little ground in the ongoing war.  On the island of Dragonstone sits Stannis, the eldest brother of the surviving Baratheon family, feeling he is the rightful heir, while advised by the red priestess of R’hllor, Melisandre.  His biggest contender is his younger brother who currently holds Storm’s End and the larger army.  And finally, to the far west on the Iron Islands, a new contender decides to take the stage and declare himself king, one Balon Greyjoy.

But it is not these squabbling kings that keep readers hooked, but Martin’s work in diverse viewpoints from unique, unforgettable characters that you either learn to love or hate or perhaps both.  Over hundreds of pages, readers begin to hate those they loved, while loving those they detested, as Martin swings his unstoppable scythe pendulum, not knowing who will come beneath the blade next.  A Clash of Kings culminates with a mighty battle at King’s Landing that will leave many dead and a world in shambles, as the survivors look once again for personal gain, while readers will be left hungry for more.

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Originally written on April 7, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

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