Ah, A Song of Ice and Fire… as I mentioned in my review of A Game of Thrones for CBR5, I’m doing that wholly non-Patrician thing where I read the books after enjoying the visual media. HBO’s show is my favorite show currently in progress, and after a destructive internal war over whether or not I wanted to spoil myself, I decided I did. There is, in my mind, a huge difference between a spoiler that comes from some thoughtless dickhead on the internet, and a “spoiler” that I still discover for myself following an author or showrunner’s careful storytelling and planning. Considering that I’ve voraciously consumed the Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies after knowing those stories like the back of my hand, why should the ASOIAF series be any different?
Anyway, all of that pondering doesn’t have anything per se to do with this, my review of the second book in the ASOIAF series. I mention it because it’s personally impossible for me to uncouple them. Part of that is natural and part of it is that I’m so excessively fond of the show and think it’s a fantastic adaptation of what, two books in, is revealing itself to be incredibly dense, and occasionally convoluted, source material. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really enjoy reading A Clash of Kings very much. I appreciated its necessity in the series: if A Game of Thrones introduces the characters, scenarios, and backgrounds that will play out over the course of the series, A Clash of Kings primarily establishes the stakes. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” the famous line goes, and A Clash of Kings lays out the large-scale consequences of that maxim: war, war, trickery, deceit, bloodshed, and more war. This sounds really epic and exciting, and it is, but in actually reading it a lot of the action takes place off-page (notable exception: the battle at Blackwater, which is as stunningly written as the scene was portrayed in the series) and the text can come across rather like your most pedantic friend’s careful synopsis of that VERY serious game of Risk.
Because of GRRM’s stylistic choice to not jump into many of the battle scenes in the first person, you get characters either talking about the action, or the first person POVs of characters with tangentially related perspectives working in the periphery. Some of these characters and their stories are more interesting than others, and this is — I understand — completely a matter of taste, but with so. many. characters. to check in on, it became occasionally infuriating to leave someone who you liked for someone who you don’t.
I’m still looking forward to A Storm of Swords, because I’m excited to read about what I’ve watched. I have a little trepidation about the increasing length of the books as the series progresses since A Clash of Kings already dragged a little for me, but overall I’m still pleased with my decision to go ahead and tackle the source of my favorite show.