This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

13 September, 2013

REVIEW: A CLASH OF KINGS

Cover art by Larry Rostant
Cover design by David Stevenson

A CLASH OF KINGS
BOOK TWO OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
BY
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

ISBN: 978-0-553-57990-1
Pages: 969 (+ appendix)
Publisher: Bantam Spectra (Bantam Dell)
First published: 2 February 1999
This edition published: 2011*
(*First mass market paperback edition: 5 September 2000)

On the cover:

   A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. And from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.


   This is the sequel to A Game of Thrones (review), and I mean sequel in the part two sense.This book does in no way stand on its own. I'd strongly advice against reading it before reading A Game of Thrones, and I'd say that goes even if you have seen season one of the TV-series.

   There's one other thing before I begin this review in earnest. If you don't like dream sequences, this is not the book for you. I have nothing against dreams used in narrative, but it became annoying to me here.

   Something that becomes apparent early on is that this is going to be slow going. And that is really something that characterises this novel. There is a hell of a lot not happening in the almost one thousand pages of this story. My review notes contains many variations on "this chapter could be summed up in a few sentences next time see this point of view (PoV)". There is just so much insignificant happening with the characters we do know, that when we see things that will become significant later (I've already read all the books that are out in the series) with characters we don't know much, or indeed anything, about it lacks any sort of impact.

   The multiple viewpoints aren't really working here, there is just way too much happening that we don't see. We get told about a lot of things happening around the characters we follow without seeing what is really going on. I almost get the feeling Martin has chosen the characters he wants to write for the PoVs instead of those that will help tell the story.
   Another flaw that becomes apparent with the multiple PoVs is that there is a tendency to repeat information. On a couple of occasions we get to see more than one PoV character receive the same news, without there being a feeling that their reactions really matter. Since we have no idea of how long these messages took to get to the different characters, it doesn't help setting up when the different timelines are happening in relation to each other either.

   One thing that is positive about the different PoVs is that they are now branching out much more than in the last book. The different storylines are really moving apart, giving us a wider view of events. But as already mentioned it is hampered by so much happening "off screen".
   There are three PoVs that stand out from the others; Jon, Arya, and Daenerys. While all the other PoVs are to some degree concerned with courtly intrigue in some form, these three have a completely different type of story to tell. It's really refreshing when you come to a chapter headed by the name of one of these three, because you know that even if their chapter is slow at least it is going to be different.

   Unfortunately the differences in these chapters only highlight the likenesses in the others. I don't feel it's really justified having to keep track of so many PoVs when the stories told differ so little in a bigger  perspective. And this goes even more for the fact that we get so little story from a character that is actually experiencing what is happening.
   Battles are the place this really shows up best. There is a lot of battles that we just hear about, in messages or summations. This wouldn't be such a big problem if Martin hadn't gone out of his way to show us he's actually great at writing battles.
   There's one battle in this books that we get to follow mostly from people who are actually in it, and it is perhaps the best sequence in the whole book. I really can't avoid thinking about how much better this book could have been if a few hundred pages of the type of chapters I started this review talking about was exchanged for scenes from the battles we only hear about in passing. This isn't something I'd usually mention in a review, I try to review what is, not what could have been. But it is just so frustratingly obvious here that I feel I would be holding back if I didn't mention it.

   I've been pretty focused on the negative in this review and I feel that is justified. There are a lot of flaws in this novel. But that isn't the full story of this book.
   Martin writes in a way that does make you want to hear more of the story. No matter how frustrating I found the pace of this novel, I wanted to read another chapter to find out what happens next. No matter how irritatingly misplaced I found a character in the part of the story they were supposed to tell, I wanted to find out more about what was happening to them.
   This story does really get under your skin. And even though it has flaws, a story that wasn't good in some way wouldn't be able to do that. Many of the parts here are definitely flawed, if not outright broken, but put together they make for an Epic Fantasy that gives you a good journey to another world.


REVIEW: A Game of Thrones

LINKS: George R.R. Martin  Bantam Dell

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