Last spring, in preparation for the release of George R. R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, the fifth entry in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, I started rereading the previous books in the series, since my memory for details in books is nonexistent. Well, actually, I started listening to the books on audio, as read by Roy Dotrice. I just finished the second book, A Clash of Kings. I listen on average about 30 minutes per day, so it will be a while before I get to A Dance With Dragons. These are long books, averaging over 35 hours each.
I enjoyed the first book, A Game of Thrones, a lot. The characters and settings were captivating. Supposedly, Martin based the series on the War of the Roses, but my history is not very good, so I wouldn’t know how closely the books are to history. Obviously, Martin has brought a lot of other references to the series, including Asian and North American aboriginal cultures. One of the things that Martin does well is to blow your expectations. At least three main characters die in the course of A Game of Thrones, and another narrowly escapes death, only to become permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
Most of the characters in A Game of Thrones are interesting, and I didn’t mind the way Martin switched points of view every chapter. It was almost like a shared-world anthology, such as Martin’s Wild Cards series. I, like most readers of the series I know, was particularly fond of Eddard Stark, Arya Stark, Jon Snow, and Tyrion Lannister. Daenerys Targaryen’s journey was interesting, and ultimately should pay off in later books, but the total lack of interaction with the other characters detracted somewhat from her story.
A Clash of Kings didn’t grab me the same way. Martin introduced a couple of new viewpoint characters who were not nearly as engaging as the established ones. For the most part, I didn’t find the Theon Greyjoy or Davos Seaworth sequences very interesting. There were just too many viewpoint characters. Moreover, it seemed like most of the book was just moving characters around, getting the pieces into place, so to speak, for the end game. The final battle, mostly at sea, was certainly spectacular, and I can’t wait to see it realized on the screen.
All this is not to say there are some very interesting characters and events in A Clash of Kings. Tyrion Lannister, now serving as the Hand to his nephew, King Joffrey, continues to be an intriguing fly in the ointment wherever he goes. Arya Stark, posing as a boy named Arry, faces danger after danger, but she is a clever survivor. Jon Snow, in a party of the Night Watch, ventures north beyond the Wall to search for his missing uncle and in the process finds himself in a no-win situation against the wildlings who live there. Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen wanders around in the desert. A fascinating new character, the warrior-maid Brienne, becomes an ally of Catelyn Stark, foreshadowing more exciting adventures to come.
All in all, A Clash of Kings is a good book, but suffers from being just a chapter in a long epic, with no real ending.