A Clash of Kings
By George R.R. Martin
- Date Finished: April 28, 2014
- Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
- Year: 1999
- Project: n/a (though an unofficial installment of my Big Books Project)
- Reading List: Spring 2014, NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction Novels (series)
- Grade: A
- Thoughts upon reading:
Another installment of the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series by George R.R. Martin (remember, the first book is called A Game of Thrones…only HBO refers to the series by that name), another week to finish. I’m beginning to seriously doubt anyone who complains of these books’ lengths because a) as I mentioned before, they’re relatively easy reading, and b) they’re so damn addicting, how could you not want to finish these bad boys in a week?
I had many of the same feelings for A Clash of Kings as I did A Game of Thrones: it’s a great, compelling epic fantasy story. I’m not going to say it’s the greatest fantasy in all of creation – it’s not – but it is definitely strong, and I continue to be impressed by Martin’s storytelling.
There’s little point talking about the plot, since most of America knows what happens + what’s going to happen because of the HBO series. I don’t; I watched the first four episodes of the first season after reading A Game of Thrones and really had no taste for it. Too much reliance on graphic sex, sets that reminded me of a low-budget Lord of the Rings, and not much value added beyond what you find in the books. I did read a Buzzfeed story after finishing A Clash of Kings last night about the biggest ways season 2 of the show deviated from the book, and I wasn’t really impressed, and so it’s safe to say I won’t be obsessing over the show anytime soon. But that’s a good thing! Because I hadn’t seen the show beyond those four episodes, I had no idea what happened in A Clash of Kings and read with the same sense of discovery that those reading in 1999 had. Plus, I have no idea what happens in A Storm of Swords, heightening my anticipation for the next installment.
Plotwise, though, I thought A Clash of Kings moved things along quite nicely, even if it felt like nothing much happened. A lot DID happen, but when you get down to it, the entire book revolves around big ol’ battle for Kings Landing. And then, when the battle finally arrives, it comes and goes in a few dozen pages, and…done. I don’t always mind how Martin skips around major battle scenes, instead bringing in lots of dialogue before and after the fact to describe what happened – battle scenes can be, after all, really, really boring. But I definitely noticed this tactic this time around, given the sheer number of battles that actually occurred in this book, and I hope it doesn’t become too much of a bad habit/cop out.
One thing I noticed reading A Clash of Kings, however, was the relative amorality of this world and this book series. Sure, there are “good” people and “bad” people, but almost everyone lingers in some in-between space. Now, I can see why Martin would do that: that’s how the world works, after all. It’s clear to see that Martin is stressing this fact, and it is occasionally one of the series’ many strengths.
However, as with any good story, authors need to outline some kind of recognizable story arc for their readers. They need to give readers reason to believe in their characters, and become invested in their world. To be completely honest, I only really “like” three or so characters (out of, like, hundreds) in these books, and if Martin kills them off (as he’s notorious for doing), I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay invested in this world. It will be like the killing off of Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey all over again…I’ll just give it up out of annoyance. So far, Martin has been able to string me along because of how compelling his world of medieval political intrigue is, but if decides to eliminate my reasons for caring, then I’m afraid I might stop. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen…