'A Clash of Kings' by George R. R. Martin (1998)

A Clash of Kings  - George R.R. Martin

George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings: Book Two of A Song of Ice and Fire (London: Harper Voyager, 2011), 911pp

 

"... war everywhere... each man against his neighbour, and winter coming... such folly, such black mad folly..." (pg. 872)

Whilst the Song of Ice and Fire books of course have their own pre-existing following, I imagine that many people now deciding to read this book will do so due to the success of the television series Game of Thrones, as I did. Therefore, I will not provide an ordinary review but try to give my impressions of the book as someone who had already been exposed to the television adaptation. Consequently, there may be spoilers for those who haven't seen the show.

A Clash of Kings is a similar beast to the first book, A Game of Thrones. Despite its length, it is easy to read, even if sometimes you do get confused about some of the numerous characters. (However, this tends to be the minor characters who only serve to drive the plot, rather than anyone you actually care about.) Like A Game of Thrones, the second book adds more depth to the story than has been (or could possibly be) presented on screen. In the book, for example, we witness Ser Alliser Thorne's journey to King's Landing to present the severed hand of the white walker to Joffrey's court, something which was only briefly mentioned in the show. Some of the plotlines continuing from A Game of Thrones are also given more attention than in the show, including the intriguing plotlines regarding Daenerys' brother, Littlefinger's knife which was used in the assassination attempt on Bran, and the batches of wildfire buried beneath King's Landing (which ties into Jaime Lannister's backstory). On pages 631-2, when Daenerys braves the House of the Undying, there is also an interesting apparent foreshadowing of the most significant event in A Storm of Swords/Season 3 (you know what I'm referring to...).

One other thing worthy of mention is that whereas A Game of Thrones was very closely adapted for season one of the HBO series, it became apparent to me in reading A Clash of Kings that season two made a number of narrative tweaks, changing character arcs and eliminating/consolidating minor characters to streamline the story. As someone who came to the books as a fan of the television series, I admit to preferring the changes made for television, though I respect George R. R. Martin's original vision. The only difference that really disappointed me is that the scenes between Arya Stark and Lord Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal (one of the best things about season 2) are not present in the book. Instead, the book's version of Arya keeps her head down when Tywin is at Harrenhal, and becomes cup-bearer to Roose Bolton later on. Jojen and Meera Reed also make their entrance fairly early on in the book, whereas in the television series they are saved for season three.

For books which are adapted to film or television, I often enjoy noting the differences, the narrative changes and improvements. I couldn't really do this with A Game of Thrones due to its almost mirror-image in season one of the series, but the second book allows me to return to one of my favourite indulgences. Readers should not go into A Clash of Kings expecting it to as closely resemble the series as the first book did, but the differences shouldn't disappoint readers - it is still a cracking read.