Book #1: A Clash of Kings

After a lengthy review hiatus, Geek Monkey now returns you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Although, I can be forgiven (I hope!) somewhat - we're talking about finishing a 960-page sequel to a 800-page book over the holidays when your son is running around jumping off every available surface and your wife is glaring at you because it's your 15th consecutive day sitting like a lump on the couch playing video games instead of things like, say, laundry or cooking or cleaning or changing diapers or...

Sorry, you get the idea. Let's talk about A Clash of Kings!

This is a prime example of getting it right in the sequel department. I noted in my review of the first book A Game of Thrones that things were a little convoluted and didn't "gel" until close to the end. A lot of ideas were presented, and at the novel's closed we had no idea where and how they fit into the bigger picture. What George R.R. Martin does in Kings is clearly put the focus on the many hands vying for control of the Seven Kingdoms, and letting each party's decisions and motivations play one against for the reader to delight in. At this point we still don't know who really should be on the throne - everyone's claim is based on past wrongs and half truths. Martin also begins to ratchet up the fantastical elements - where in the previous book we got a handful of ambiguous zombies and the insane, 70's exploitation/60's Hammer films birth of two dragons (hysterical and great at the same time - I still laugh when I think of it) in Kings things becomes more graphic, more horrible, and more threatening as it appears that everything remotely magical seems to be in service of something far more sinister than the simple machinations of scheming Lords. Shadowy assassins are literally birthed out of priestesses, unseen force in the North are slowly gaining strength, beings can seemingly change their appearance at will and the prophecies of a young boy are frighteningly coming true.

But the real joy of A Clash of Kings comes from the characterizations of the major players. Especially the women. Martin gives all the strength he couldn't embellish for Lord Eddard Stark for reasons I won't spoil here to his wife Catelyn Tully, who provides a backbone to her sons and daughters fighting in very different ways for survival. Likewise for my favorite new character in the book Brienne, whose awkward sense of femininity is only out-paced by her skills with a sword.

The men fare just as well. Tyrion Lannister, the "Imp" who is now Hand to the King is a great fantasy invention, and his race to cover every single angle, even as more pop up every minute is simultaneously exciting, hilarious, and cut-throat. This is his book as much as it is anyone's, and it's a credit to Martin that he treats his "villains" (I'm using a lot of quotes today, sorry) with as much depth and thought as he does his heroes.

If anyone in my opinion gets the high hat in Book 2 it's Jon Snow, the bastard son of Eddard Stark that by all conventional fantasy wisdom should prove by the series' end to be the hero of the piece. But his fleeting appearances in the book are a small price to pay for something so substantial and fun.

Looks like Book 3 is coming much faster than I earlier anticipated!