Monday, December 26, 2011

Shepherd492 reviews: A Clash Of Kings

A Clash Of Kings (George R.R. Martin)



Plot

Clash of Kings is the sequel to A Game of Thrones, a long winded, epic journey to the land of Westeros. The book begins immediately after the previous, with a devastating and widespread war sweeping across the land. The Lannisters and Starks continue to do battle, while the deceased king's brothers also look to make their claim at the throne. The Greyjoys also look to carve out a slice of the kingdom for themselves, and in a land far away, Daenerys begins preparations to return home.

The book retains all surviving points of view from the original. It also introduces two new ones: Theon, former ward of the Starks, and Davos, a captain under the command of Stannis Barathon. Each of these new viewpoints does a great job of adding to the intrigue of the world. Theon is a character that had a brief role in the previous book, and here his devious scheming and lust for power causes him to turn against his adopted family. The surprising turnaround changes the landscape of Westeros, and is an effective use of a new character. Davos is a bit less interesting, and only shows up a handful of times, but his character allows for the first true glimpse at naval technology in the setting, and it gives us a character that is close to aspiring king Stannis Baratheon.

The returning points of view are also mostly interesting. The standouts are easily Tyrion, Arya, and Jon. Tyrion's story arc shows us the inner plotting and maneuvering that threatens to undermine the Lannister war effort, and involves a great deal of deception and scheming. One of his final chapters details an epic battle in which he becomes a surprisingly competent warrior. The battle is the crescendo of the book, and one of only a small handful of large scale battles seen. Arya and Jon's stories are great coming of age tales that do wonders for character development, but also introduce some intriguing new elements. Jon's quest beyond the Wall fills us in on exactly what the Night's Watch is guarding against, and displays some of the most powerful imagery in the book. Arya's adventure takes her from the company of Night's Watch recruits, to captive of the Lannisters, to assisting in a dungeon breakout. Along the way she meets all manner of fugitives, convicts, and scum, including Jaqen H'ghar. This shadowy assassin promises to kill any three people that Arya wishes. The character is only in the book for a short time, but he makes quite an impression, and he is one of the most mysterious characters presented.

The other points of view are good for presenting different perspectives on the action and allowing the reader to take in a different side of the world. Bran and Catelyn don't have the most action packed stories, but their tales are very important, Catelyns in particular, and serve their purpose expertly. Catelyn's role as a diplomat and ambassador is expanded upon in this book, and Bran is the character most directly affected by Theon's ambition.

Not all are successful, however. Sansa has always been a character that has struggled to find her niche in the universe, and that is largely unchanged here. She spends the majority of her time locked in the castle, and her chapters are often little more than dialogue with the Queen, Tyrion, or her hopeful savior, Dontos Hollard. She isn't an overly insightful or decisive character, and her role in showing life in the Lannister camp is already taken by both Tyrion and Arya. Daenerys is a good character, and her story is an intriguing one that promises to grow in future books, but the heavy reliance on magic and dragons and other supernatural happenings just doesn't fit with this book. Taken out of context, her role is good, great even, but when paired with the gritty reality and decidedly worldly nature of the other arcs, it just doesn't fit.

The only other disappointment is that we never get to see the events directly from the perspective of the leader of any faction. Stannis, Robb Stark, Renly Baratheon, and Tywin Lannister are four of the most important people in the world, however we only learn about them and their exploits through those closest to them. Robb in particular would make for another great coming of age story, and his story would've been infinitely more captivating than Sansa's.

Characterization

Clash of Kings expands on the excellent characterization of the principal characters of Game of Thrones, and introduces several new and effective characters. As alluded to before, Arya and Jon have the most interesting progression over the course of the novel. Their means of adapting to their environment, and their resilience in spite of tremendous challenges against them, are simple concepts, but extremely effective. Loyalty is also a major trait in both of these characters, though Jon's misfortune at the end of the novel promises to question and erode his loyalty to the Black Watch.

For other characters, such as Bran and Catelyn, love and kindness is a very important aspect of their persona. Catelyn is a fantastic female lead, the author expertly captures her longing for her deceased husband, worry for her son, and determination to succeed in the war. Many of her traits are mirrored in Daenerys, though Daenerys takes a more direct approach to solving problems than Catelyn does, and is easily a more powerful character. These two are great deviations from the standard damsel in distress/whore archetypes so prevalent in fantasy novels.

Sansa is quite the opposite, her primary function is to be the helpless damsel. Nothing about her character is likeable, though her position is certainly sympathetic. She does little to try to save herself though, and by the end of the book it is hard to feel any empathy for such a useless and incompetent character.

Theon's greater role here makes for an interesting character study. He develops mostly as a villain, showing cruelty and malice towards those that once welcomed him into their castle, but he also manages to retain some sympathetic traits such as uncertainty and regret. The author does a great job of balancing this character, preventing him from becoming an ineffective caricature in a book that rarely deals in absolute good and absolute evil. The other new character, Davos, doesn't have a memorable personality, and exists more to flesh out the story and offer a fresh perspective.

Tyrion is just the same as he was in Game of Thrones. The character's wisecracking and scheming is back in full force, and he has almost all of the book's funniest lines. Tyrion is a classic underdog character, and though he doesn't really change as a result of this book, his character is so endearing that it doesn't matter. His dynamic with the rest of the Lannisters in the King's Landing is one of the better in the book. The give and take between Cersei, Joffrey, Tyrion, and etc. is so wildly different and unexpected from chapter to chapter that Tyrion's chapters are usually among the strongest for characterization.

The book's only really weakness in this department is the sheer number of characters. Random characters are introduced only to die pages later, and some characters are thrown in just to add numbers to any given scenario. These characters, often only appearing in the form of an allusion during a descriptive paragraph, are extremely hard to care about, and even more difficult to keep track of. A more focused cast of characters would not have been a bad thing, as, outside of the major players and a handful of characters that factor heavily into their stories, there is an enormous contingent of characters introduced one time and promptly forgotten about, accomplishing little besides confusing the reader.

Prose

As expected, Clash of Kings improves on and repeats what the previous book did well, while failing in many of the same aspects. The failures aren't terribly important, but they do exist. Firstly, there are a ton of feasts and celebrations in this book. While this is not a problem in and of itself, several of them are pointless in relation to the overall story, and all of them are plagued by an abundance of useless detail. The contents of the feast are repeated every single time, and they barely differ from one another, if at all. Reading about what the guests are eating is not exciting or interesting, and these sections could've been removed with no repercussions. A similar problem appears when describing the bit players mentioned above. The author tends to go to great lengths to describe the armor and banner of whatever insignificant knight is being talked about. The armor designs are often artful and intriguing, but their inclusion doesn't add anything, acting as useless detail for useless characters.

Much of the rest of the book is exceptional, however. Though the imagery and descriptions are occasionally bland, they are often brilliant and spectacular, such as the detailing of Jon's exploration of the lands beyond the wall. Another passage involving a substance known as wildfire consuming the ships of both Stannis Baratheon and Tyrion Lannister also features spectacular imagery.

Dialogue is mostly great, too. The subtle jabs and wordplay employed by Tyrion are the standouts here, but the characters generally do a great job of getting their thoughts and feelings across without the use of expository dialogue. Action scenes, particularly the few large scale engagements featured in the book, are well written and tense. The fighting is often short and gruesome, the author pulls no punches when describing the fate of the loser in any given battle-there is plenty of gore in this book.

Conclusion

A strong successor to Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings builds on pretty much everything that made the original great. The main characters remain (mostly) compelling, the plot thickens, and the action scenes are great. The book doesn't really have a wow moment of the caliber seen in the previous book, but there are enough minor surprises and plot twists to keep it interesting. Despite being a bit verbose and padded, Clash of Kings is well worth the read.

Final Score

95/100

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