A Clash of Kings is the second book in George R.R. Martin’s popular A Song of Ice and Fire series. The book follows on from the last instalment and continues the tale of politics and backstabbing the series is so well known for. King Robert Baratheon and his hand Ned Stark are both dead, with Robert’s tyrannical son Joffrey taking the throne. However rumours are afloat of the new king’s incestuous heritage. Several people have declared themselves king, including Robert’s brothers Renly and Stannis Baratheon, and Ned Stark’s son, Robb, who has declared himself King of the North seeking to rescue his captive sisters.
Of course that is by no means a complete synopsis. Many plotlines from the book start to gain a bit of traction. Arya Stark who, unbeknownst to the Starks, is actually on the run and finds herself bounced around the seven kingdoms. In one of the most shocking betrayals, Theon Greyjoy, one of the new point of view characters, betrays Robb Stark and lays siege to Winterfell. He seemingly kills Bran and Rickon Stark, although in reality they later turn out to be alive. Arya’s plotline is still relatively weak but there are a few interesting moments, in particular her friendship with the assassin Jaqen H’ghar, which leads to her escape from Harrenhall towards the end of the book. Bran’s story arc doesn’t kick off that well and most of his action in the book is driven by Theon’s story arc. In fact Theon probably has one of the most interesting story arcs in the novel, despite not having a major effect on the conflict as a whole.
Like before Daenerys, and Jon Snow have reasonably boring story arcs. Daenerys’ story arc is basically filler with nothing happening, even at the end, where she basically continues on her journey without achieving anything. Jon Snow travels beyond the wall for most of the novel, until he is forced to fight his mentor to the death so he can infiltrate the wildlings and gain intelligence on them. We are also introduced to Davos Seaworth, another point of view character, who serves as the vessel through which we see Stannis Baratheon’s side. Davos himself is nothing special, but it is through him that we are introduced to the Lady Melisandre, who has converted Stannis Baratheon and most of his side into worship of the god R’hllor. She is intriguing because of her use of magic, one of the least subtle examples so far.
Tyrion Lannister also makes a return, and is thrust into power after his father makes him acting hand of the king. His scenes throughout the novel are funny and amusing yet at the same time showcase his intelligence. His cunning finally comes to a head at the climax, when Stannis Baratheon attacks King’s Landing. At the Battle of Blackwater Bay Tyrion uses wildfire to destroy most of Stannis’ fleet in a spectacular display of cunning, setting them up for defeat when Tywin Lannister arrives to finish the rest off.
Compared to its predecessor, A Clash of Kings has truly found its form. Almost all the characters in the seven kingdoms get more focus and development compared to before, and many great story arcs begin in this book. Overall it is a stronger entry in the series, though Martin still has problems with the subplots reaching outside the seven kingdoms. It was this book that sold the A Song of Ice and Fire series for me and it is this book that turns the series into an essential read for any fantasy fan.
IN A WORD: BREATHTAKING