A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) by George R.R. Martin.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Warning this post contains plot spoilers.
George R. R. Martin’s second novel in his Game of Thrones series follows immediately in the bloody aftermath of the previous book with the main story arcs continuing as so; in Westeros, a violent and destructive war between the Lannister’s and the North led by Robb Stark; beyond the Wall, the Night Watch’s expedition to find Benjen Stark and investigate the Wildlings; and across the Narrow Sea in the Eastern lands, Daenerys Targaryen navigating the dangerous early days of caring for her young dragons after the death of Khal Drogo.
However the overwhelming focus, which gives the novel its name, is very much in Westeros where five kings fight for power. The first is the young King Joffrey Lannister, installed after the death of King Robert in the previous book by the hand of his Mother regent, the fearsome Cersei Lannister. This story arc of the Lannister’s is again told through the Imp Tyrion Lannister, who as commanded by his warring father and much to the dismay of his sister Cersei, returns to King’s Landing as the Hand of the King. His chapters are among the best in the book, especially his baiting intrigue against his impatient sister and his sizing up of potential future allies/ enemies such as the all hearing eunuch Varys and the Machiavellian Master of Coin Petyr Baelish.
The other claimants to the Iron Throne are Stannis Baratheon, who rules Dragonstone across a short sea; his younger brother and rival, Renly Baratheon, from the South; the proclaimed King of the North, Robb Stark, and the many factions which follow his banner; and finally Balon Greyjoy, father of Theon whose perspective introduces this family, who as Lord of the Iron Islands aims to exploit the lack of leadership and arms in the neighbouring coastal areas of the North.
Overall this second novel is as brilliant as the first with the sheer wealth of context given to each chapter, character and house almost difficult to believe coming from just one person’s imagination. In the second half the plot picks up its pace and the highlight is undoubtedly the massive battle at King’s Landing between the defending Lannister forces and Lord Stannis’ fleet. Victory for the Lannister’s see Joffrey’s rule of the Iron Throne continue, with it likely to only strengthen with the return of Tywin Lannister to King’s Landing as the Hand of the King.
Other major substantial plot developments are the abilities of Bran, and briefly Jon, as Wargs meaning they can enter the minds of their wolves and even control their actions. This enables Jon to see a massive Wildling army led by the King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder, including giants and mammoths, assembling near to the Night’s Watch. This also leads to Jon Snow’s betrayal of Qhorin Halfhand, planned by them both, which allows him to yield to and infiltrate the Wildlings. This comes after his wise show of mercy to not kill the Wildling girl, Ygritte, he had earlier captured.
Bran escapes Winterfell, after it is captured by the turncloak Theon Greyjoy who is eager to impress his indifferent father, along with his brother Rickon, Osha, Hodor and their new friends, Meera and her brother Jojen Reed, who introduce Bran to his powers as a Warg. Theon eventually loses Winterfell to the bastard Ramsey Bolton, whose cruelty is referred to in passing through-out the novel, who sacks Winterfell and kidnaps him.
Favourite plot/story line: Tyrion Lannister’s surprisingly apt turn in King’s Landing as the Hand of the King, with its constant intrigue, is a brilliant story line, but for being a brand new character’s perspective Ser Davos Seaworth’s chapters were my favourite. They introduce the austere and dark regime of Lord Stannis Baratheon, which becomes increasingly reliant on the dark arts of the faith of the Red Woman Melisandre.
Ser Davos is a former smuggler, turned Knight who is loyal to Stannis, who as the eldest brother of the late King Robert Baratheon arguably holds the purest claim to the Iron Throne. Stannis, however, is an overly stubborn, serious man who is little loved by his men and after fleeing to the island keep of Dragonstone, due to the past slight of King Robert’s choice of Ned Stark instead of him as Hand of the King, suffers from a serious lack of swords and shields to take the Iron Throne.
It is the sorcery of the Red Woman, witnessed first hand by Ser Davos, which are the most shocking plot twists of this second book. Particularly; the murder of Stannis’ younger brother Renly Baratheon by a shadow and the birth of another shadow from the Red Woman to infiltrate Storm’s End to murder Ser Cortnay Penrose who refused to yield after Renly’s death. These wicked acts, reluctantly tolerated by Ser Davos, help make Stannis the main challenger to the Lannister’s rule of King’s Landing.
Least favourite plot/story line: Daenerys Targaryen features very lightly in the first half of this book with only one chapter, which I have to admit was pleasing to me as this is my least favourite story in this series so far. The rest of her story sees her and her remaining followers travel the deadly eastern deserts and finally finding refuge in the city of Qarth where she is ultimately unable to secure support for her mission to retake the Iron Throne. She also realises the love her close knight Ser Jorah Mormont holds for her but quickly decides that she does not love him.
Daenerys’ story in this novel concludes after a failed assassination attempt against her sees her brought into contact with Strong Belwas and Arstan Whitebeard who inform her they represent her former ally Illyrio Mopatis, who means to have her escorted back to Pentos so he can help her again.
Best quote: ‘“What sort of reasons do you mean to give them?”
“Gold reasons,” Littlefinger suggested at once.‘
Have you read this second book of the Game of Thrones series? What were you favourite story lines or parts of it? Please leave your comments below.