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Review Revisited: George R. R. Martin – A Clash of Kings

July 8, 2011

Re-read. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin (1998)
A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2

Read my review of book:
1. A Game of Thrones

Length: 1010 pages
Genre: Fantasy

Originally Read: 19 June 2006
Re-Read Finished: 27 June 2011

Where did it come from? My “epic fantasy favorites” shelf; originally purchased from Amazon.

If you thought things were
bad with one king, wait until
there are five of them.

**Here there be spoilers for A Game of Thrones. Consider yourselves warned.**

Summary: With the death of Robert Baratheon, the kingdom of Westeros has splintered into a number of factions, each with a king of its own. Joffrey, Robert’s son by name, although not by blood, holds the title in Kings Landing, although the kingdom is fact ruled by his mother, Queen Regent Cersei, and his uncle, the dwarf Tyrion. They must attempt to hold the city against Robert’s brothers: Stannis, the elder, who has the lawful claim but not the love of the people, and who has turned to a magician of a foreign religion for help; and Renly, the younger, whose easy charm has managed to unite most of the forces of the south into backing his bid for the throne. There is also Robb Stark, King in the North, who has sworn vengeance upon the Lannisters, and holds the Queen’s twin brother Jaime hostage against the return of his sisters: Sansa, who is in turn held hostage in the capitol as Joffrey’s future bride, and Arya, who has escaped the city and is heading north… right into the war zone. The Stark’s bastard half-brother, Jon Snow, is heading north of the wall with a large company of the Night’s Watch, intent on finding their missing rangers, and confronting the wildling Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall. The rebellious Balon Greyjoy has once again declared himself King of the Iron Islands, and set his longships – and his son Theon – to raiding and pillaging along the coasts. And of course there is Danaerys Targareon, the Queen Across the Water, the Mother of Dragons, and the last scion of the line that should be the rightful holders of the Iron Throne.

Original Review: Oh, really good. Hard to put down, in fact. I feel like the good guys get kind of short shrift – not a lot of character development, while almost all of the bad guys are shown to have at least some redeeming features, and I actually found myself cheering for some people who were supposed to be bad guys. I did kind of skim over some parts in this one… I have a hard time visualizing battles, especially when the people dying have been mentioned once before, if that, and this book has a lot of battles. Still, there were a couple of parts in this book where he sets up a “reveal” so effectively that I actually gasped out loud. So… yeah, I’m hooked.

Thoughts on a Re-Read: I really don’t remember what I was on about in the first part of my original review. The “good guys” – meaning, mostly, the Starks – get plenty of screen time, and plenty of character development, and the only two storylines/POVs we get from ostensible “bad guys” are Theon, and Tyrion. I think the “people who were supposed to be bad guys” that I was surprised to find myself rooting for was Tyrion (it’s been 5+ years since I wrote this review; I was apparently not so specific back in the day)… which just goes to show how clueless I was on my first read-through. Thinking Tyrion was a bad guy! Ha! Come to that, thinking that anyone in Martin’s story, especially the characters with POV chapters, can be classified as a straight-up good guy or bad guy. Martin’s depth of characterization, and the way that the characters change, not only growing within the story but also in the way that we perceive them, is easily one of the best things about this series.

For example, let’s talk about Theon. Theon’s awful. He’s a smug little dick, and even when he does something good (say, saving Bran from the wildlings), it’s still really hard for me to like him. But in this book, we get to see more of Theon, more of his background, and how ever since he was ten, and taken to Winterfell as a hostage to his father’s good behavior, he’s never had a place to fit in. He never really belonged among the Northmen, and now he’s too much of a Northman himself to fit in back home. He’s still a smug little dick, but that doesn’t stop my heart from breaking on his behalf as he tries and tries to make a place where he’s truly wanted – even if he does so in the most obnoxious assholish way possible.

Re-reading it, I already know to expect some of the turns of character (to wit: Tyrion). One the one hand, this makes things more interesting, since it lets me catch more of the subtleties and nuances that went right over my head on the first read through, but on the other hand, the revelation of what I had thought was a black-and-white good guys/bad guys story shifting into a wonderful complex gray is an experience I don’t get to have a second time.

One thing that did catch me by surprise, even on a re-read, is how subtly powerful some of the language and some of the scenes are. I usually talk about the power of language vis-a-vis someone like Guy Gavriel Kay, so I never really thought to apply it to Martin’s work. Martin’s writing isn’t as complex and flowy and eloquent as Kay’s, but his more straightforward prose has a power and a resonance of its own, and there were a few scenes that were just so quietly right that they hit me right in the chest and made me catch my breath… maybe even more so on a second read, since I know – and love – the characters so much better now.

“As they passed the sept, he heard voices raised in song. Some men want whores on the eve of battle, and some want gods. Jon wondered who felt better afterward. The sept tempted him no more than the brothel; his own gods kept their temples in the wild places, where the weirwoods spread their bone-white branches. The Seven have no power beyond the Wall, he thought, but my gods will be waiting.” – p. 98

A Clash of Kings doesn’t have quite the same breathless, must-keep-reading pace of A Game of Thrones – I think because the chapters are longer, so the story doesn’t push ahead as quickly, and the POVs are multiplying along with the various story threads, meaning that each individual piece has less time to develop. There’s also a proliferation of minor characters, and noble houses, and allegiances, and relationships, that threaten to become overwhelming when there aren’t any big clues about which details will be important later and which parts can safely be glossed over. But even so, I’m enjoying my re-read of this series immensely, and I’m bumping this up half a star from the first time I read it. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Some Random Thoughts About the Show:
I thought the show did a wonderful, wonderful job with almost everything. (Save the fact that they didn’t make Sean Bean dye his hair – genetics and coloring is such a big deal in Martin’s world, that Ned really needs to have dark hair like Jon and Arya. On that tip, too, Bran was mis-cast, although I have no problem with the actor otherwise.) I don’t mind the decision to age up the kids, either, and while it’s weird to have Robb and Theon looking about the same age, I find the actor that plays Robb so compelling that I’m willing to go with it. But one thing I noticed in particular while reading A Clash of Kings after having seen the first season of A Game of Thrones is that I find the show’s version of Varys much more interesting than I find the book’s version: more intrigue, less giggling.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The BookBanter Blog, The Literary Omnivore, Polishing Mud Balls, Stuff as Dreams Are Made On, and more at the Book Blog Search Engine.

First Line: The comet’s tail spread across the dawn, a red slash that bled above the crags of Dragonstone like a wound in the pink and purple sky.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 323: “Dancer was draped in bardings of snowy white wool emblazoned with the grey direwolf of House Stark, while Bran wore grey breeches and white doublet, his sleeves and collar trimmed with vair.” – a fur much used for lining and trimming garments in the 13th and 14th centuries, generally assumed to have been that of a variety of squirrel with a gray back and white belly.
  • p. 802: “Gynir Rednose became so wary that he shunned wine, took to sleeping in byrnie, coif, and helm, and adopted the noisiest dog in the kennels to give him warning should anyone try to steal up on his sleeping place.” – a coat of mail; hauberk.
  • p. 843: “His big red stallion wore crinet and chamfron.” – articulated armor protecting the upper surface of the neck of a medieval war horse; a piece of plate armor for defending a horse’s head.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 8:34 am

    I’m not convinced this is for me, but my son loves the books and the series.

    • July 11, 2011 12:04 pm

      Kathy – Yup, I think this series is probably not going to be up your alley, but I’m glad your son’s into them!

  2. July 8, 2011 9:58 am

    I just re-read this too. It was fun to understand more of the visions that various people have which foreshadow future events. I also paid more attention to the history and back story this time and found that very interesting. Overall, I thought they did an excellent job on the show as well.

    • July 11, 2011 12:05 pm

      Laura – I definitely paid more attention to the visions this time around too, and got a little thrill every time I made a connection that I hadn’t caught before.

  3. July 8, 2011 10:09 am

    I have Storm of Swords waiting for me. I loved Game anf Thrones and Clash of Kings so my hopes are very high for the third book. Tyrion is one of my favorite characters; I agree he’s much more complicated in Clash of Kings than Game of Thrones. I’ll admit to being overwhelmed with the enormous cast of characters at first but Martin somehow makes it all work without being too much.

    As for the show, I thought it was done really well. I’m the type of person who tends to loves the books more but I was pleased with this and I’m actually looking forward to the second season.

    • July 11, 2011 12:06 pm

      Amy – I (usually) am a definite books-over-movies kind of person, but part of what I think made the show so great was how closely they stuck to the book!

  4. July 8, 2011 11:49 am

    I am FINALLY reading this series… I won’t be ready for the new book, but maybe by the time it comes out in paperback…

    • July 11, 2011 12:07 pm

      Kailana – Awesome! I’m hoping to be done with my re-read by the time I come up on the holds list at the library for the new book, but I probably won’t be acquiring it until it’s out in PB – gotta have a matching set!

  5. July 8, 2011 11:50 am

    .I love re-reading books because it allows me to focus more in the details than in the twist and turns of the plot, creating a new reading experience.

    • July 11, 2011 12:07 pm

      carolina – As a kid I was a huge re-reader; nowadays I have so many new books calling for my attention that re-reading is a pretty uncommon event.

  6. July 8, 2011 9:17 pm

    I’m still halfway through the book (sadly, I got swamped with work and had to put this one aside) but so far so good! I love all the characters, and am especially interested to see waht RR Martin does with the Hound and Sansa arc. (will not read your review in case of spoilers)

    • July 11, 2011 12:08 pm

      Sharry – I think this review is spoiler-free in terms of book 2, but I agree that the Hound is one of the more fascinating characters.

  7. July 9, 2011 6:22 pm

    I’m reading this series now, so I’ll have all the characters fresh in my mind for when the new book comes out. I’m not confident that this strategy will be successful, because I already keep forgetting characters and having to google them to figure out who they are and what wicked deeds they’ve done.

    Theon is such a poop. I can’t even remember if Theon is dead (I feel like no, because I hate him and want him to be dead and nobody I want dead ever seems to die) because that’s how much I don’t care what happens to him.

    • July 11, 2011 12:10 pm

      Jenny – Just take it as writ that Martin will make awful things happen to your favorite characters, and that nobody you want dead ever dies, and that nobody can be happy for more than a page or two before it gets yanked away from them, and I think that’s a pretty good summary of the series. :)

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