A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin is the second book in his Song of Ice and Fire series. It does a brilliant job of picking up where the first book left off and carrying the story forward. I, however, did not do a brilliant job reading it.
Let me back up a bit. I had decided I would read the books before the following season of Game of Thrones began. In other words, I read book one when season one ended. This was an excellent way for me to review the previous season’s events and keep up with where the story was heading. And it worked very well between seasons 1 and 2. Then I lost my mind. Or my way. Or something. I ended up forgetting to read A Clash of Kings and skipped ahead to A Storm of Swords. I remember thinking, “Wow, I really forgot a lot of stuff from the second book.” Eventually I realized I hadn’t read it at all. Not even one chapter of it!
Truth is, I think I forgot to read the second book because I was studying so much and was so burnt out on medical coding. But that’s neither here nor there. After all, this is supposed to be a book review and not a summary of my life. So back to the book.
After reading the first book (or watching the first season), we know that Martin is not shy about killing off characters and he does a great job of creating characters you want to see die. (Unfortunately, these are not the ones guaranteed to be murdered by the book’s end.) Another thing he does well is to create complex characters who are flawed making even the most likable ones occasionally unlikable. Nonetheless, I have to say that Tyrion Lannaster is still a favorite and even more likable in the books than he is on the television show. I know it’s difficult to imagine. You’ll either have to take my word for it or read the books.
The most remarkable thing I noticed in reading this book (finally) is how much the television series departs from the novel itself. I really don’t want to compare the two but I must commend the television series writers for how effectively they manage to condense content to keep the story moving along. This is not to suggest that Martin doesn’t do a masterful job of pacing his novels. I prefer having more details, more characters, and more content. But what works on the page doesn’t always translate to the screen and some of the changes simply make sense.
Some. Not all. I do not understand why Jojen and Meera were not introduced sooner. I think their role in Bran’s development is fascinating. I was thrilled to learn more about them from having read the second book. So much so that I’ve been looking over at the fourth book in the series. I remind myself to resist the temptation because I know how frustrating it can be to wait for a series to finish being published. Do I want to put myself through that again? No. Not really. This is why I said I would read the books from the previous season and relive the experience that way. But I blew it. I read book three, and I can’t say how much longer I can hold out on book 4.
Another plot line that I feel was not allowed its full due was Daenerys Targaryen’s story. Yes, I know I said that her story is the least interesting because it is so narrowly focused on her goal of regaining the Iron Throne. There are things that occur in this novel that really are relevant beyond the scope of the novels. She, as an archetype of the hero, is going through the traditional path of being separated from her home (predates the first book), called to a higher purpose (second book), and the descent into hell/death (this book). Although it is somewhat present in the show, it is diminished to such a degree as to lose much of its bite. (One might suggest that the very reason her story is so predictable is rooted as much in the single-mindedness of her quest as her following a familiar mythic path.)
Having finished the second book, after reading the first and third (insert eye-roll here), I am resisting the temptation to read the fourth book. This is easier said than done. Given Martin’s skill at taking a despicable character and making him/her sympathetic, taking a well-lover character and revealing some character flaw, I simply want to know what is going to happen next. Only “next” is two books away from being finished and even if I read books 5 and 4, I’ll be waiting a while.