*For those who have not read the series at all, you might want to skip to the last paragraph, or just skip this review entirely, unless you're not afraid of spoilers. I certainly wouldn't recommend reading this if you have not read the first book in the series.*
|Stannis Barratheon from the HBO series|
Through Davos we meet Stannis Barratheon, brother to Robert and the rightful heir to the king. Stannis is cold-hearted, admirable only in his distaste for lavish parties and tournaments, but otherwise inflexible and unforgiving. He finds no love amongst his people. Davos is a better choice to follow. Named the Onion Knight, he's the only advisor who Stannis fully trusts, because when Stannis held Storm's End years ago, Davos came to the rescue with a ship full of onions while the castle was under siege. Davos, a smuggler, was knighted, but at the cost of the fingers on one hand, under Stannis' brand of justice. Stannis relies on Davos because Davos is not deceitful. He doesn't sugarcoat his words. He speaks his mind and is loyal. His loyalty, his kindness, and his frankness make him a lot like Ned Stark, and he is one of the few truly likeable characters in the novel.
|Davos Seaworth from the HBO series|
|Theon Greyjoy from the HBO series|
There are certainly improvements in some of the storylines this time around. I think Arya's story is much more interesting, as is Bran's. Arya finds herself in some interesting places, and at one point has the potential to cripple one of the major contenders for power if only she could have looked beyond her own selfish concerns. And Bran seems to have some sort of connection with his direwolf, Summer. Two children, Jojen and Meera, visit Winterfell to help provide a lift to Bran's chapters. Jojen seems to have some magical abilities, and magic has started to become a major player in the realm, despite the skepticism of the maesters. One gets the feeling things of the old world are making a return.
|Renly Barratheon from the HBO series|
Dany's story is mostly put on the back burner. Last we saw her she cracked open her dragon eggs and now has three young dragons. She travels through the Red Waste in search of civilization with Ser Jorah Mormont and 100 Dothraki. Despite how little a role she plays in the overall story, the novel ends with some promising developments for her.
|Sansa Stark from the HBO series|
|Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound, from the HBO series|
One of the critiques I have for the first book, though I didn't mention it in my review, is that very little attention is spent on religion. That is not the case here. We get to know the religion of the Stark's religion better, which has something to do with praying the godswood. Catelyn's family, and many others, prays to the new gods, seven in all, with the likes of the Mother and the Warrior. The Greyjoys pray to the Drowned Gods, perhaps because they are situated on an island. Stannis has formed an alliance with a priestess named Melisandre, who prays to the God of Light, her religion being the only monotheistic one in the novel. I find it difficult to imagine an epic series like this to play out with little reference to religion, but Martin fortunately devotes a little more time to it here.
A Clash of Kings starts off faster than A Game of Thrones. The prologue is better and we already know most of the main players and events. We learn more about some of the characters, such as Theon, though others like Dany fall under the radar. There is more sex and more violence this time around, or at least it seems more graphic, not that this is an improvement. I think Martin goes too far at times, but the HBO series takes it even further, sometimes including scenes that add nothing to the development of the plot or characters. I think the end of the novel falters in comparison to the first book. Where A Game of Thrones left off with several jaw-dropping cliffhangers, A Clash of Kings ends less climatically. There is an epic battle at the end, but how it concludes feels a little too convenient. A few characters have unknown fates, some stake off on adventures, but mostly nothing so impressive happens that I feel I can't wait to start the next book. I don't mean to say this is not a great novel, as it really is, and it still leaves me clamoring for more. The series truly is one of a kind, and I can't think of any other fantasy world that feels so real and is so well-developed and full of surprises. In a way, I wish it never ended.