“A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good. Each should have its own reward.”George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
Warning: Spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire book #1 (A Game of Thrones) and the TV show will be discussed in the following review. Read at your own risk.
A Clash of Kings picks up after the death of Ned Stark and at the beginning of the War of the Five Kings. The North is angry at the death of their Warden; the Wall is short staffed and Jon Snow struggles to maintain his loyalty to the Night’s Watch at the death of his father; Arya is traveling to find her brother at the Wall; Sansa is trapped at court and being forced to marry Joffrey; Daenerys begin to pick up her life after the birth of her dragons.
While the first book is, at its core, a mystery; this book is all political intrigue and battle strategy. Even though the entirety of the series is classified as fantasy, I love to sort the individual books into their own genres. A Class of Kings is very fun in the sense that the secrets that are exposed are done so through word of mouth gossiping. Martin does a wonderful job of shocking his audience in the most unsuspecting way, throwing secrets in when the reader is least expecting them. This book also truly belongs to the smaller characters such as Arya, Sansa, Tyrion and Jon. The first book made us think that Ned Stark is the main character and that the true story starts with the events of the first novel, but really, it feels like the story starts with the development of the Stark children and Tyrion Lannister.
Tyrion’s observations and intelligence are the heart of Martin’s story. Despite being shoved aside by his family, Tyrion’s love of reading demonstrates that, through raising himself on strategy, he can be just as formidable as his siblings. To anyone but the reader, Tyrion seems to be a lesser man due to his dwarfism. The reader also knows that Tyrion is the only one that can compete with the most ferocious many in the seven kingdoms: his father, Tywin.
In some ways, I also see this book as having satirical elements because everyone seems to have heightened flaws or strengths and that leads to disastrous outcomes. The characters can also be truly noble, but one misstep can lead to their death which proves that every action has a pretty serious consequence. That, to me, only heightens the satirical aspects, especially in the King’s Landing plots.
I also especially enjoy the Riverrun plots which are shown through Catelyn’s point of view. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Martin’s depiction of Catelyn and some of the other female characters. His portrayal of women is not perfect, but for this world, I’ll grant a little leeway. I’ll also grant some leeway in the fact that starting this book, you can start to see which characters Martin enjoys writing and which characters he doesn’t write about as much. I often think that this contributes to some of his writer’s block.
Overall, this book may not be a perfect sequel to the first novel but I loved the introduction of several new characters as well as the development of characters we briefly met in the first one. Martin’s writing grows stronger and Westeros becomes more vivid and tangible to the reader. Martin, as always, knows how to keep his readers on their toes and this book cements the one thing that all of Martin’s readers know for certain: nobody is safe.