A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin (1999) 1009 p.

George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice And Fire series continues well, picking up where A Game of Thrones ended: with a number of different rulers vying for power following the death of the old king. The realm is wracked with war and chaos, and the surviving viewpoint characters from A Game of Thrones are joined by a few new ones as they struggle to seize power, fight tyranny or simply survive.

Martin’s pacing is still his strongest point; unlike many 1000+ page fantasy bricks, the books in A Song of Ice and Fire actually deserve to be as thick as they are. Martin never wastes time with unneccesary clutter, and the pacing of the story rarely flags.

Characters are also considered one of his strong points, though I find a few of them to still be annoyingly dull (Jon) or inserted merely to serve as vantage points to critical plot elements (Catelyn, Davos). Theon undertakes a course of action which is a complete about-face from anything he’s done before, and which would have been a lot better if there’d been some foreshadowing for it in the first book. Bran spends too much of his time wandering about in a mythic dreamscape. Daenerys continues to be a fairly dull character, but was interesting to read about simply because she’s in the most interesting locale in the books. Sansa is a dull character in a relatively interesting situation, held captive by the book’s villains in a hostage/guest type relationship, and realising that she’s going to have to try to hide her feelings and earn their trust and play a very long game to escape. Arya is much more interesting than she was in the previous book, as she flees north and provides the reader with a perspective of what the war is like for the peasants and stickpickers of the kingdom, caught between multiple armies and suffering badly for it.

Far and away the best character is Tyrion Lannister, the cynical and conniving dwarf who is sent to the capital by his father to act as regent to the Lannister family’s villanous boy-king, Joffrey. Tyrion is technically a bad guy, but he stands out as being one of the few characters with a brain in his head, which – coupled with his dry wit – make him easily the most likeable character and the one that you find yourself rooting for. The chapters in which he consolidates his power, working simultaneously with and against his sister, are some of the best in the book.

Martin’s tertiary characters, however – of which there are hundreds, with extensive family appendices, the Freys and the Tyrells and the Tullys and so on – are much more thinly drawn. Or perhaps they aren’t, but there are so many of them, with so few distinctive names or characteristics, that it’s hard to tell them apart when their myriad sons and nephews and cousins show up in armour at various battles or parleys. No matter – they’re rarely important, and Martin does a better job than I would expect of at least keeping roughly 20 or 30 key characters memorable.

A Clash of Kings is a good, solid sophomore entry in a very engrossing fantasy series. Next up is A Storm of Swords.