A Clash of Kings is the second novel of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire. The story picks up where the first novel left off, with the Stark family of Winterfell scattered throughout the Seven Kingdoms, all of them in danger and fighting their own war.
The series is set in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a fantasy land based in medieval times. The official king is Joffrey, heir to Robert Baratheon, but three others have declared themselves rightful king, one of them Robb Stark, who calls himself King of the North. His younger brothers, Bran and Rickon, remain at Winterfell, but are not as safe as their mother Catelyn hopes. Sansa Stark is held hostage at the court of Joffrey, still betrothed to him, while Arya travels through the Seven Kingdoms disguised as a boy. Jon Snow, bastard son of Eddard Stark, is a brother of the Nights Watch, who guard the Wall in the north, keeping the kingdom safe from wildings and other dangers. He too is in great danger, as he joins a party of rangers to venture beyond the wall to investigate worrying events.
Each of the Starks tells their story in third person, a chapter at a time. In addition to them, we also hear from Tyrion Lannister, dwarf brother of Queen Cersei, Joffrey’s mother, and Daenerys (Dany) Targaryen, the last of the dynasty overthrown by Robert Baratheon.
The benefit of having so many narrators means the telling of the story knows no bounds – we hear it from every angle, we see all events as there is always one of our narrators present. When a story is on a scale so great as that of A Clash of Kings (and indeed the whole series), this is the only way to tell it. There are multiple layers and threads to it, each character may be concerned about the overriding story (who will triumph as king and what is the future of the Seven Kingdoms?) but within that, they all have their own concerns and preoccupations which form their individual stories. Sansa is perhaps the least interesting narrator, shallow and scared as she is, but even hers is an important role as she is at the centre of Joffrey’s court.
All these story layers are utterly absorbing. A Clash of Kings pulled me in even more than the first novel did. I was fully caught up in the story, in serious danger of missing my bus stop on several occasions. It is brilliantly crafted, and always keeps you hanging, wanting more. One narrator finishes but you want more from them, but then you get pulled into the story of the following narrator, and when you reach the end of their chapter, you want more from them too.
Martin’s writing is superb. I feel I noticed this in A Clash of Kings even more so than in the first novel, A Song of Ice and Fire. The Seven Kingdoms may be a fantasy world with strange creatures, but it is a medieval world, and Martin’s style of writing completely immerses you in that world. There is nothing about it which points to a modern author trying to explain medieval or fantasy elements of the story, yet on the other hand it is completely accessible for modern readers.
The novels of A Song of Ice and Fire are long ones, which I for one am very glad for – they take longer than most books to read, which means I have longer to enjoy them. A Clash of Kings is similar in length to A Song of Ice and Fire itself: reading them on Kindle means I don’t have to worry about holding the weight. The third novel, A Storm of Swords, is actually available on Kindle in two installments, so presumably it is exceptionally long. Excellent – all the more reading enjoyment for me.
I really cannot recommend A Clash of Kings highly enough, but in fact I am recommending the series as a whole. It is important that you begin at the start, the story is far too complex to try to pick up further into the series – and far too good to skip any parts of it.
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