At the end of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the Seven Realms had descended into chaos. Robert Baratheon was dead, an illegitimate son sat upon the Iron Throne, dragon’s roamed the land once more, the dead rise from their graves, and Rob Stark–who’d led a host in the hope of rescuing his now dead father–had been declared King in the North. War has come to the land and as numerous Kings fight for their thrones, victory is far from certain.
As in the preceding novel, A Clash of Kings is told from multiple POV’s that include most of the surviving members of the Stark family, Tyrion Lannister, Davos Seaworth–a smuggler turned Knight in the service of Stannis Baratheon, and Theon Greyjoy–Ned Stark’s ward/hostage who sees an opportunity in this mess to gain everything he wants. Each individual gives you a different facet of the conflict while also have their own compelling narrative that is expertly woven into the whole. While I was sometimes eager to get back to certain characters or less interested in the fates of some, I never felt bored and each characters seemed to bear an equal weight of moving the plot forward.
The characters are well defined and complex, rarely having altruistic motives. One of my favorites was Tyrion Lannister. Don’t get me wrong. I feel that the Stark’s have been greatly wronged and I want to see them victorious in this conflict, but of all the characters Tyrion Lannister seemed one of the few who not only stuck to his principles but put his duty before his own personal wants and desires. On top of that he’s one of the most intelligent characters in the book and I enjoyed watching him outwit people, especially when it came to his older sister, Cersei Lannister. In the same breath their was a character that I utterly despised–Theon Greyjoy.
Having become Ned Stark’s ward after his father’s failed rebellion against Robert, Rob has now given him his freedom and leave to return home and the hope that Theon can forge an alliance with the Iron Islands that will allow the North to stay free of the Iron Throne’s grip. But not only is Theon doing this for his own selfish reasons, when he learns that his father intends to invade and conquer the North, he goes along with it and never tries to warn Rob. Further, he seizes Winterfell itself and sets in motion events that leads to Bran and Rickon’s murders. When that happened I felt such a sickening sense of outrage I wanted to strangle Theon on the spot which is only the second time I’ve felt that towards a fictional character, and something I half to applaud Martin for.
Martin also managed a plot twist that I did not see coming. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the books–though that’s probably few by now–but when I realized how fully I’d been duped I couldn’t help but feel impressed. To string a reader along is one thing, but to apply a bait and switch takes incredible talent. Add to that a revolving plot where the stakes for each character are raised and you have a novel that can’t be put down.
A Clash of Kings begins with five rulers; Rob Stark, Joffery Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy, and Stannis and Renly Baratheon. By the end only Rob Stark, Joffery Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy are left standing. Renly is murdered by sorceress means and Stannis’ siege of King’s Landing ends in failure, leaving the Lannister’s victorious. Despite this questions remain. Stannis’ death is never confirmed. The fate of Davos–Stannis’ most loyal Knight–has fatal implications though the reader is left uncertain. And then their is Melisandre, the priestess of Ashaii who led Stannis Baratheon down a dark path and to many victories before returning to Dragonstone and leaving her lord to his untimely defeat. What was her game? What are her intentions? And is her role yet unfinished? These are all questions that I hope will be answered in the next book especially as greater threats than a war torn land loom. And the Seven Kingdoms aren’t the only ones with armies seeking to take advantage of the chaos.