A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, is about as perfect as fantasy fiction gets. I had high expectations when I picked up the second book, A Clash of Kings. Would it have the same beautiful characters? The same expectation-defying plot? The same attention to medieval life and battle? The same breathless page turns to see what happens next?
I mentioned in my review of Thrones that Martin occasionally slipped into cliche in his description and fretted that in later volumes, after experiencing success, he might be less vigilant about editing his prefab phrases. This is, indeed, the case in Clash: the entire writing style seems less intensely accurate and more relaxed. The book is longer than the first and I suspect that, had Martin's editor or internal editor been more vigilant, certain events and passages could be removed to make the action tighter.
In fact, the entire book seems less intense. This is evident in the first half. Martin takes time to prepare his massive conflicts, and his protagonists, mainly the Stark family, spend a lot of time being depressed and fretting over characters that we either don't care about or haven't met. I confess that I lost my copy of the book for half a year. If Clash had the been the manic page turner that was its predecessor, I would have been desperate to find it. But I wasn't.
Well, I found Clash of Kings in the zippered top pocket of a suitcase I had laid in the basement. Eventually, the sails of this becalmed book fill. Once more I found myself swept into the battles, intrigues and surprises of the unhappy isle and its bloodsoaked throne.
The book continues to follow the viewpoints of the same characters who survived the first book. Two more characters are featured, Davos Seaworth, a low-born smuggler turned knighted sea captain serving the now-dead-king's brother, and Theon Greyjoy, a hostage returned to the Viking-esque, brooding, troublemaking Greyjoy family. Unfortunately, I didn't like either of these characters much. Davos is dull. Theon chapters are hard to read because he's an infuriating dink. However, their antics were far overshadowed as my favourite characters, Tyrion Lannister, the Stark girls, and Daenarys Targaryen continued to brighten the book.
I won't get into the details of all the awesome stuff that happens. If you loved the first book, you will find the second worthy. It's just not quite as perfect.
4 off-camera battles out of 5