Minor spoilers included for this book and big spoilers for Game of Thrones (GOT), so don’t read this if you haven’t read the first book.
My main motivation to read this book was the upcoming second season of the Game of Thrones TV show, however another significant factor was the huge ending to the first book. To say the shit hit the fan at in the last 100 pages of that one is a bit of an understatement. The book went from a simmering tension of discontent to all-out war in the Kingdom. A Clash of Kings (COK) picks up where GOT left off.
I was initially a bit apprehensive about this book. I had some concerns that the series would struggle without my favorite character—a certain Lord who is now headless. Although I was also a fan of Tyrion Lannister, I was not sure if he would be enough to see me through the sometimes more tedious Sansa/Arya chapters. Although few new first-person characters are introduced, the events are such that you can’t help but get swept up in the world again.
The theme of most of this book is how the various factions are setting themselves up to claim the Iron Throne. In Kings Landing we have Joffrey Lannister on the Iron Throne with the might of House Lannister behind him. However, it is now fairly common knowledge that he was born through incest and is therefore not the rightful King. Technically it would appear that Stannis Baratheon has the best claim and it is probably Stannis that contributes most in terms of intrigue to this book, even though we get little direct contact with his side. Renly Baratheon is Stannis’s younger brother and seems to base his claim to the thrown mainly on the fact that Stannis is not charismatic enough to be King. Robb is the recently proclaimed King in the North and engages in a number of battles with House Lannister.
There are also other more indirect claims to the throne that are not quite so imminent, but are boiling in the background. We continue to follow Daenerys over the see. She is now the owner of three dragons, but is struggling to put together an army to march on King’s Landing. We also now have Theon Greyjoy chapters. Theon is potentially heir to the Iron Islands and his dad, Baron Greyjoy, seems to be making a claim to a throne as well. And lets not forget the threat from north of the Wall. Mance Rayder is continuing to threaten, although those outside the Night’s Watch are ignoring him for the time being.
This book takes an unusual approach to its battle scenes, because for the most part it ignores them. The majority of the battles are related to the reader through off-hand comments by other characters and you miss out on most of the detail. I am not a big fan of battle scenes, so this suits me. I am much happier spending time with the political intrigue than reading about who hit whom where and with what.
GOT hinted a lot at magic, but only through stories, so you never really knew if it existed or was just myth. Well COT clears that up. Magic exists and you see it first hand. It is limited to a few instances, but it is certainly there this time and may be connected to a new comet that has recently appeared in the sky. Speak to anyone in the Kingdom and you will probably get a different story about what the comet means. Stannis believes it is a message from the Lord of Light and has teamed up with Melisandre, a messenger of that Lord. Judging by some of Melisandre’s activities, it appears Stannis may be on to something.
If you have watched the TV series, you are probably a huge Tyrion fan due in part to the fantastic performance of Peter Dinklage in that role. If you are, you will love this book, because Tyrion really steals the show. In fact, I found that I was always awaiting the next Tyrion chapter. Unfortunately this was in part because some of the other chapters did drag on a bit. The nature of the series is that it is a slow burner that is clearly leading to something spectacular. That does mean that we have to follow storylines with little happening, for example Daenerys. And some of the Sansa/Arya/Catelyn chapters can be a little dull on occasion. Still, those are minor complaints in the grand scheme of what is a phenomenal book.