07 January 2012

Books: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (1999)

A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who hold sway over an age of enforced peace are dead, victims of royal treachery. Now, 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.

In the second volume of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, your senses are sent reeling as the scope of the story grows even larger. I'm impressed that the author has made this long book sweep by like the wind, as he expands his universe by introducing new characters and brutally killing off many old ones from the first book (which I'll get back to in a bit).

As I've mentioned before, the fantasy novels that have broken out of the three volume set that I grew up with in the 1980's have a tendency to wander from main story, introducing us to elements and characters that distract from the main story. Robert Jordan did this, and while some welcomed the expansion, others felt that these new tangents were designed not to enhance the series, but to supplement the authors pockets.

While A Clash of Kings has some problems (really, do we need to know the names of every ship in everyone's fleet?), George R.R. Martin has found a way to move the plot forward at a pace that leaves the readers little time to whine about some the pages devoted clothes people wear. That is, in my opinion, that makes this series work for many.

I read somewhere that this series is like The Sapranos (with dashes of The Tudors), and I can see how one might look at this as a medieval version of that famous HBO series. Like that mob story, people die horribly, and life means little in a game of power and riches -though I often think its not about money, but pure power.

People die here, usually in some gawd awful way, losing heads, arms, eyes and sex organs. The violence is, at times, stomach churning. Never a huge fan of this, I have found myself rather disturb by Martin's glee at the way he kills these people.

Still, there is one clan that seems destined to be the moral compass of this land, but treachery hounds them. And while it took a long time to get to the end, I'm none the less willing to take on volume three, which is well over a 1,000 pages. Martin is a good writer, and he balances a lot of balls in the air to keep the story moving. We'll see if this continues.

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