Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

A Clash of Kings
 (A Song of Ice and Fire #2)

By George R.R. Martin

Published in: 1998

Synopsis (via Goodreads): The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud; beyond their Northern borders, the men of the Night Watch fight the coming of a great cold and the walking corpses that travel with it; on the other side of the ocean, the last of the Kingdom's deposed ruling house mourns her horseclan husband and rears the dragonets she hatched from his funeral pyre. This is character-driven fantasy—we see most events through the eyes of the sons and daughters of the Stark family, the once and future Kings of the North, whose father's judicial murder started the war. Martin avoids the cosy cheeriness of many epic fantasies in favour of a sense of the squalor and grandeur of high medieval life; there is passion here, and misery and charm

The bookstores around my place are still desperately low in stock of this series so rather than wait for the stock levels to rise I turned to a friend to borrow his copy. After waiting a fortnight I finally had the book in my hands and I devoured it in a day and a half! I couldn't help it! I meant to let it linger so that I wouldn't have to wait till I next saw my friend to borrow the next book in the series, but alas it was too tempting and delicious and I gobbled it all up. Before I truly get into the review I juts want to warn anyone who hasn't read the series yet that there will be spoilers from book one in this review. So if you plan to start the series at some point, sooner or later, and don't wish to hear any major plot points from the first book then turn back now! If you keep reading, well, don't say I didn't warn you!

Book two takes off immediately where book one left us. A year has now passed since King Robert made his way to Winterfell to make Ned his hand and in the time since much of the seven kingdoms have fallen to endless war, savage raids and crippling hunger. The peace and prosperity that blossomed (however weakly or deceptively) under Robert died with him, and the hope of reuniting past allegiances died with the murder of Ned Stark. Rob, now 15 and King of the North, continues to lead his men into battle against the Lannisters while Robert's brothers Stannis and Renly both put forth claims for the iron throne and butt heads. Discord and chaos rules the lands and in this murky atmosphere it is all too easy for sworn allegiances to crumble and for smaller houses to desire the power and strength of the Starks, Lannisters and Baratheons for themselves.

I'm so glad the second book maintained the level of awesomeness set in A Game of Thrones! Once the establishment of the characters and age old grudges had been well and truly taken care of in book one Martin was able to really raise the pace and amp up the action sequences. The fragmented story format that Martin uses to tell the story through the perspective of several characters scattered across the kingdoms means that you have a constant build of tension and action within each chapter before being left with a cliffhanger that has you desperate for the next chapter of that character to come along. Then you fall headlong into the next chapter and the build and flow and that cliffhanger! It makes for a very consistent and desirable build of tension and character arcs.

I mentioned in my review of A Game of Thrones that one of the most interesting parts of the novel was the pervasive air of deception and secrets, and if anything that has doubled in this book. The secrets are no longer contained within the Red Keep, instead the air of dis-ease has spread to the furthest reaches, and allegiances and oaths of fealty many centuries old are crumbling as men and women strive for their own slice in the pie that is Westeros. Added to this is an increase in magic across the realm. Long believed to be lost with the first men and the children of the forest it seems that Daenerys and her three new dragons are rekindling powers long thought extinct. I'm interested to see how this develops in the later books when Dany gets closer to Westeros and attempts to take the Iron Throne for herself.

There is one thing I really want to address, and that is the comments being made in reviews on sites like Goodreads about the quality of Martin's writing. Many seem to hold the opinion that Martin is a strong storyteller, but a poor writer. I completely and wholeheartedly disagree. When I'm reading the books I don't see any clumsy writing, there is no awkward or unnecessary exposition and I certainly don't think it lacks profundity. For me to agree with any of those points I would have had to be jerked out of the story as a result of some form of sloppy writing, but not once did my attention waver as I read the book. In fact the only thing that stopped me from sitting and reading it non-stop was a need to eat and to get enough sleep to be able to work the next day. Throughout the two books I've read so far Martin has demonstrated an incredible ability to weave sub-plots, build characters and pace an epic and almost exhaustively huge narrative. His writing is rich with metaphor and symbolism, and like J.K. Rowling every sentence seems to be awash with subtext, signals and signs. The dialogue between characters is genuine and interesting, and the structure of the chapters (as mentioned above and in my review of A Game of Thrones) is a well-developed method of delivering the information on the multiple sub-stories without muddying the narrative.

As for the claims that George R.R. Martin is the American Tolkein, well it's too soon to tell. There are books I love that I, sadly, know will never stand the test of time, and until several more decades have passed how can we truly know whether Martin will join the godly ranks of Tolkein? In terms of quality I do think Martin is a superb writer and a fantastic storyteller, and perhaps best of all is that when I read these books I don't feel like I'm reading a poor replication of Tolkein's masterful fantasy tomes. So perhaps he will one day ascend to sit up high with Tolkein and have fantasy authors strive to be heralded as the 'Australian Martin', or the 'French Martin' or the 'Swedish Martin'. If his books continue in the same vein that they currently have, I have no doubt that he deserves such accolades and I'll probably start crying 'Martin for king' along with the others.


  1. Woah, you finished this novel in less than two days, Kayleigh! Intense. A very thorough and insightful review (as always) and we share very similar positive feeling towards the book but you are able to display them way more eloquently.

    First off, I think you are right on the mark pertaining to the criticism towards Martin's writing, which is largely unwarranted. Granted, some of his dream sequences are a little awkward but that is a minor quibble and rendered irrelevant in the grand scope of the narrative. Any author who can keep the reader invested in a 1000 page novel is a worthy achievement. Give me a great story well-told any day over insufferable, convoluted flowery prose a la Henry James. Oh, how I loathe this author!

    For the longest while I was under the impression that Martin was British. Are you planning on starting book #3 any time soon or going to take a little break and read something else to mix it up a bit? :P

  2. Thanks Jason!

    I'm hopefully going to get my hands on book three this weekend so I can start it, but I think this time I'll slow myself right down and try to pace it a bit better!

    Thanks for agreeing with the point about the quality of Martin's writing. I got a little ranty, but there were so many reviews criticising it on GoodReads without warranting why they felt he was a bad reader that I felt like I had to speak up! I think you're right about the dream sequences though, they're probably the weakest area for me.

    I thought he was British too! Maybe it's because the book is so medievil in feel? I came across a few articles which heralded Martin as the American Tolkein so I had to go and google it to see if it was true!

  3. I love George Martin's books, but I do have to agree that he is a sloppy writer. It's a shame, because his books could be considered classics if he would tweak his writing. For example, in Clash of Kings, he insists on using "in truth" CONSTANTLY. He obviously was getting into the rhythm of writing his story and it is a great story, but it should have been fixed in revisions. He never did this and it annoyed the **** out of me.

    The second thing that he does is confuse the narration with awkward things like taking sides with or against a character by describing them glowingly or disparagingly for no apparent reason (they could be friends or enemies of the character that that chapter belongs to). He also uses nicknames in his narration, even introducing characters like Daenerys as "Dany". Why is the narrator not using proper names? Even just their first names?

    Again, I love the series and will continue to read them as they come out, but Martin's books would benefit from some revision. Not to change any of the events or dialogue. I never picked up on the misogyny or overuse of brutality that a lot of people charge. He shines at vivid imagery and emotion. Just that he has these little bad habits show in his writing.

  4. I completely agree Anon, but the detail of his writing + the storyline itself is enough for me to shake off any doubts/annoyances! There are very few writers who I think can make me ignore overused words, or sloppy writing, but GRRM is definitely one of them.

    I do think there has been a general improvement in his writing, but I think perhaps his editing team should be doing a little more to weed out his "word of the week" and upping the content level as well.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I do love his plots and find his style very immersive, Just frustrating. I also noticed that sometimes he starts new paragraphs before a character is finished speaking, for the same character. You think that it's the person they were just speaking to, but really the same character is still talking. Personally I'd just be happy if he used a different word for Doublet.

    eh, I'll keep reading him. Good to find your blog anyway

  6. Definitely keep reading, although I did find book 4 and 5 a little disappointing... it feels like the story just starts to run away from GRRM.

    Thanks for stopping by, it's always fun to talk books with people!



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