Some of you fellow pop-culturists might be like me, enjoying the preparation for movie sequels or new TV seasons by re-watching past instalments or (better yet) reading the next book in an adapted series. I decided to prepare for Game of Thrones season two by reading the second book in George R.R. Martin’s epic series, titled A Clash of Kings. After the [spoiler alert] beheading of Ned, book one left the Starks in all manner of pickles: little sis Arya posing as a boy to escape her way back home to Winterfell; big bro Robb leads a war as King in the North; sister Sansa is trapped in a nightmarish engagement to psychotic King Joffrey (ooh I hate that little snot!); bastard Jon treks his way farther north; crippled boy Bran (and little boy Rickon) try to hold down the fort (literally) in Winterfell; and widow mama Catelyn tries to bring what’s left of her family back together. Add to that the other characters hanging on the edge of a cliff (including child-bride turned Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen) and I’ve got more than a compelling reason to come back to Westeros.
As any Spider-man or Batman sequel will tell you, it’s hard to beat the original story. You just get to know a whole bunch of characters and their stories seem so manageable. By installment two, they’ve all grown, changed, and their world has expanded. That’s exactly what happened to Westeros. Where book two not only introduces new locales such as Harrenhal, Qarth, and the Iron Islands (I love that name), it also foregrounds characters such as Stark ward Theon Greyjoy, and impish king’s-uncle Tyrion Lannister. I was pleasantly surprised that this book was able to replace beloved-yet-fallen characters from book one (So long, Syrio Forel!) with new ones (Hello, Brienne of Tarth!). It even briefly introduced an unexpected favourite in Jaqen H’ghar (who I like to call “Westeros’s answer to Boba Fett”). An honour-bound assassin who Yoda-speaks in the oddest third-person way (“A god has his due. And now a man must die.”)? He’s the most unique and refreshing epic-fantasy character that I’ve read in a long time (if only I could spell his frakkin’ name!).
Despite all that good stuff, I can’t say that I loved the plot/narrative of A Clash of Kings. It feels a bit scattered by the fact that we’re trying to follow various groups and encampments as part of this five-way play for the throne. There are lots of smaller story arcs which overlap and intersect (which can get a bit distracting and uneven). Also, I feel that a lot of the conflicts and conundrums are resolved too conveniently by what seem like plot devices which beggar believability (Yes, I’m looking at you, Shadow Assassin!). I’m also not a fan of battle scenes — I find them hard to follow and too chaotic — and this book contained a doozy. As much as I enjoy following all these characters (especially little Arya), I wish this book could have focused a bit more. How about we leave Jon Snow and Daeny T. for the next book? They didn’t interact with the main storyline at all. Nevertheless, Martin is clearly a maester of his craft. His stories are intricate, well-imagined, and exciting. I can’t wait to go back to Westeros for book three (but I should probably wait until next season is coming). 4 out of 5