Dec 27, 2011

[Books] A Clash of Kings

The book series A Song of Ice and Fire has become one of those stories that I feel like I should have read years ago, and yet never did. And while I'm somewhat late to the game mainly on the success of the HBO TV series Game of Thrones, I'm still enjoying every moment of it for the most part.

The books are not easy reads, I'll admit. The decision to tell the story from multiple points of view is not a new idea and it is one that has mixed benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, it means that we get a richer narrative and it helps us anchor ourselves in the various stories whenever the POV switches to a different part of Westeros or across the Narrow Sea. On the other hand, it also means that some chapters tend drag a bit, especially when the reader doesn't like or feel for the character "narrating" that section of the story.

But beyond that, I really enjoying reading this second book in the series, primarily because I've become quite the Tyrion fan. You have to acknowledge that he's an extremely well-written character and in many ways is practically the protagonist of this book. And as far as reluctant heroes go, it's hard to better than our little Imp.

A Clash of Kings is fantasy title released in 1998 and is the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The book was written by George R. R. Martin and it has won the 1999 Locus Award for Best Novel  and was nominated for the 1999 Nebula award for Best Novel as well.

By the end of the first book, A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark had been executed, Joffrey Baratheon has claimed his father's throne while Ned's son Robb has declared himself King of the North while Renly Baratheon has also claimed the right to the Iron Throne as brother of the dead king, Robert. But Renly is the younger brother and thus his older brother, Stannis, has also decided to stake his claim on the crown. He is now supported by the mysterious Melisandre who follows the religion of R'hllor as opposed to the Seven. Thus we follow his campaign to gather sufficient forces to challenge Joffrey's forces at King's Landing.

English: The Iron Throne, from GRR Martin's So...
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At the same time, Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands has declared himself King of the Iron Islands. With most of the Northern banner men supporting Robb in his campaign to deal with Tywin Lannister and his army that now holds Harrenhal. Elsewhere we continue to follow the struggles of Sansa as a prisoner of the Lannister, of Tyrion as he tries to salvage the mess that Joffrey has made of King's Landing and of course the struggles of Arya as she tries to survive as a fugitive in hiding, deep in Lannister territory.

And of course we can't forget the continuing saga of Daenerys Targaryen as she does her best to find a path for her new people and to keep her dragons safe. And far north at The Wall, Jon Snow and his brothers in the Night's Watch set out to investigate the goings-on beyond the Wall and assess what the Wildling forces beyond are up to and what they might have played in the disappearance of Benjen Stark.

Now normally I do my best to keep these synopses limited to two paragraphs, but considering this epic fantasy we're dealing with, it's hard to manage that kind of a constraint. With that in mind, one has to consider the fact that epic fantasy is not everyone's cup of tea. The style and tone of the books is drastically  different from the likes of The Lord of the Rings and given the complexity of the houses and all that, it feels a lot more like Dune to me in this regard. And for longer term Geeky Guide readers, you'll know that I'm a major Dune fan. So it so works for me.

In the first book, it felt like Ned Stark was our primary protagonist - at least up until the point he was killed off. In this book, and this may be due to bias mind you, I felt that Tyrion was definitely the main player for this book. Between trying to manage the antics of Joffrey Baratheon and planning out a defense of King's Landing against a potential invasion despite their lack of resources and trained men to man the defenses. And the defense of King's Landing alone is a brilliant set piece that feels like it belongs more in a mystery novel. You have Tyrion giving all these strange orders that seem almost ridiculous - at least only ridiculous until the defense comes together and all his plans come to fruition.

I have to admit that I don't care much for some of the side characters, especially Catelyn Stark, the widow of Ned. He role in this book seems to be limited to running to support either her son or her brother and father and that's about it. At least in the first book she got to demonstrate more fire and panache in her capturing of Tyrion and such. But beyond that, there's little benefit to see in the scenes she's involved in. But maybe that's just me.

And the Daenerys storyline didn't go so well in this book as well. I mean in the first book there was a triumphant rise from being in the shadow of her brother to a full Dothraki princess in terms of the respect and authority she learns to wield. This time around she was pretty much wandering around trying to figure out her general path in life while doting on her dragons. I'm sure it'll make sense later on once she figures out how to create an army of her own and become a serious contender for the Iron Throne, but for now I can do without her in the spotlight so much.

A Clash of Kings is a lengthy book, I admit, but even with the ups and downs it works and it really contributes to the building of the larger story. Sure, the names can get confusing and hopping around the map in different parts of Westeros and beyond but if you make the investment, it'll pay off in time. At least that's how I feel as I go through the book. Given all this, the book rates a respectable 4.5 confrontations between Tyrion and Joffrey out of 5.

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