Saturday, July 2, 2011

Girl on Book Action: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Aside: Here is your obligatory warning that there will be spoilers for A Game of Thrones throughout this review, because, well, I'm reviewing the second part of the series so it's inevitable that minor and major spoilers will occur.  If you care about these things and have not read the first book (or I suppose watched the show) you can read my thoughts on part one here, or Wren's review of the first episode of the show here.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
ISBN: 0-553-57990-8


A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky.  And 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.


My Thoughts:

Ah, yes, part two.  I really have a thing against part two of anything it appears (aside from the Lord of the Rings movies, though that has more to do with Karl Urban than the story, but I digress), because I’m not thrilled with this installment.  Now, that isn’t to say that I didn’t devour it, but it wasn’t a gleeful wolfing down of choice morsels, no, at times it was more like a forced-feeding (you can thank the hundred-thousand feasts in the book for all the food imagery, also, I’m hungry and putting off lunch to write this review).  After the first book, I wanted nothing more than to plunge ahead into the second, but I held off, now that I’ve read part two, I feel I need a break, that should tell you something.

So what hindered my full enjoyment?  For one, the plethora of points of view still bothers me and in this book, we find two new ones.  Theon and Davos.  I know why Martin introduces them, I see how they work in the story, but I just...didn’t care, especially about Davos.  Theon's attitude irritated me, but the part of the world we see through his eyes was at least interesting to me.  Every time the book switches to Bran I wanted to go have a nap instead of reading, even though some of the characters around him catch my interest (I’m thinking of Osha and the Reed twins).  Catelyn is still Catelyn, her hysteria and inability to use common sense haven't improved in this second book.  And while we don’t get her point of view, Cersei is becoming quite the contender for the “hysterical woman doing stupid things” trophy.  I won’t even bore you with my thoughts on “poor” Sansa and her continued insistence on the chivalry of knights, if she wasn’t so intent on her fairy tale (even though it’s come crashing down around her head) a whole lot of people might not have died in the first book.  We're supposed to hate her, right?  And speaking about irrational expectations and continuous moaning about things that will never be, let's turn back to Bran for a moment: his constant bewailing of the fact that he's crippled and can't be a knight like in the stories is getting old fast.  Him, Sansa, and their fairy tales.

I still like reading about Arya (she just gets more awesome despite all the horrible things that happen to her) and seeing Daenarys come into her own is great, too.  Here are two chicks who are going to rock the boat with a minimum of whining. Tyrion is kicking ass and taking names despite his stature and his ploys and scheming are a treat.  I think I looked forward to his sections the most.  And Jon Snow, well, he’s forlorn and tragic, stuck up in the frozen wastes.  I love the Night’s Watch and everything they get up to off in the land beyond the Wall.  I feel terribly sorry for him, all alone so much of the time with no one to love him and protect him. Erm. Anyway.  I still wish for Littlefinger as a point of view, because he is probably my favourite.  I’m also developing a fondness for The Hound.  Oh, and I almost forgot!  Jaqen H’ghar filled my heart with joy and there needs to be way more of him, like, an entire book devoted to his exploits.

Of course, it’s not all points of view and characters, there’s a war going on and all that.  Alas, alack, and well-a-day the war is a big disappointment.  Spoilers!!!  After all this setup, the two Baratheon brothers are defeated way too easily – we get all this mustering of forces and Stannis leaving Dragonstone (which is why we needed Davos) and then Renly gets killed with magic.  Fair enough and that was kinda cool, but the defeat of Stannis outside King’s Landing was, well, it felt...lame.  I hope that it serves as a lead up for something else, otherwise the introduction of Melisandre, her Lord of Light and various other religious/mystical elements was a waste of time (we could have been watching Arya fight branches).  The actual battle and Tyrion’s plans for it was great, but then it’s just...over and the Lannisters have won and it was just...too easy.  I was not pleased, not at all.  End spoilers!!!!

I understand that the overall purpose of this installment is to establish that the realm is descending into chaos.  By the end of the novel, I was thoroughly sick of nothing going right for anyone.  Nearly every decision, every action only led to further betrayal and devastation.  When things did go right, it always seemed to happen off-screen or as an aside.  There is a limit to many times I could feel upset about plans going awry, especially when some of the characters involved didn't even manage to raise my ire, much less my rapt interest.  If no one ever succeeds, the failures lose their impact.  After all this complaining, it might appear that I'm contradicting myself: claiming I like the books even though I'm tearing this one to itty-bitty shreds.  I assure you, the griping is a product of the richness of the world Martin presents and the amount of time I spend thinking about the characters and events of the novel.  It's complex enough that its easy to spend an awful lot of brain power thinking through it.  I still love the overarching ideas and the story that’s beginning to unfold, but I loved only parts of this book.  I’m hoping that the third one is a little more satisfying, whenever I decide to return to Westeros.

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