A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Fiction — print. Bantam Books, 2011. Originally published 1999. 1009 pgs. Borrowed from a friend.

The second book in Martin’s fantasy epic series titled A Song of Ice and Fire depicts the war and strife as the four men who claimed the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms are joined by a fifth — Balon Greyjoy, father of Theon the former ward of Ned Stark and the self-declared king of the Iron Islands. Theon, for his part, wages war on the homeland of the now deceased Ned Stark capturing Winterfell and murdering two anonymous peasant boys similar in size to Bran Stark and Rickon Stark after the boys disappear.

In between explanations of the multiples battles waged during this civil war, the book also delves into the life of Daenerys Targaryen and her three newly hatched, rare dragons as she continues her quest to return to and conquer the Seven Kingdoms and Jon Snow and the rest of the Night’s Watch travels north of the Wall only to interact with a allegiance-free tribe known as the wildlings.

This one paragraph summary can never capture the amount of detail packed into this novel and, to be perfectly honest, I had a hard time keeping track of the details included in this novel despite having already seen the show upon which this novel is based. The battle between Joffrey Baratheon (or, in reality, Tyrion Lannister) and Stannis is supposed to be an important turning point in this novel, the catalyst for action both here and away from King’s Landing, but it was so difficult for me to understand what was occurring that passages were reread and scenes from the show were rewatched in order to make sense of it all.

Some characters’ point of views are more interesting than others — Jon Snow continues to be my favorite and I wasn’t expected to meet Ygritte the wildling until the next chapter; Sansa Stark impressed me with her ability to play the delicate game of politics; and Tyrion helps me make sense of those battles that are not being waged in the traditional sense. But, unfortunately, those characters I wanted to learn more about — Stannis, Theon, Renly Baratheon — seemed to get the same treatment they are given in the show. I understood Theon’s motives better, but he still seems stilted compared to some of the other characters. The book also introduces readers to yet two more narrators — Ser Davos Seaworth, a knight and former smuggler in the service of Stannis Baratheon, and Theon — after starting with a prologue written from one of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered so far, Maester Cressen of Dragonstone (Stannis Baratheon’ holding).

I mentioned in my review of the first book how jarring the reminder of the characters’ young ages were given the activities and events they engage in. That doesn’t change with this novel, but the point I felt most revolted was what some would probably call a minor moment in the story. King Joffrey, Sansa, and other members of his royal court are besieged by hungry residents of and immigrants to King’s Landing , and their hasty escape separates Sansa and another young woman from the protection of the King’s guard, known as the gold cloaks. Sansa is rescued before she can hurt, but Lady Tanda’s daughter, Lolly, is described as such:

“Lady Tanda’s daughter has surrendered her maidenhood to half a hundred shouting men behind a tanner’s shop. The gold cloaks found her wandering naked on Sowbelly Row.” (pg. 600)

Surrendered? Really? What a deplorable and revolting way of describing rape! After this moment, I set the book aside and ranted to the friend who recommended me this series. But she explained how Martin “plays with the line between sex and rape” and said he changes his tone with Lolly in the next book. (Update: I’ve started the third book in this series and I can see support for and contradictions to this assertion.)

At just under the halfway mark with this 1,000-paged novel, I wrote on GoodReads “I find this book to be slower and less engaging than the first. I keep waiting for something to happen, but all I’m getting is a massive amount of set up for (what I hope will be) future events.” That changed slightly as the novel moved on, but I also wonder if its due to how familiar I am with the basic plot because of the television show? Details change and more information is given than I ever thought possible, but I’ll be curious to see how engaged I am with the story once I reached the point in the story I don’t already know about.

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