"You should have learned by now, none of us get the things we want." Cersei Lannister
At the end of book one, the Seven Kingdoms teetered on the edge of chaos as five kings laid claim to the Iron Throne. 'A Clash Of Kings' picks up pretty much directly where 'A Game Of Thrones' left off, but as well as focusing on all the pieces already in motion, George R. R. Martin continues to expand the world of Westeros, adding more characters and more viewpoints. So while Tyrion Lannister becomes the King's Hand and sets about trying to fortify King's Landing and minimise the havoc caused by King Joffrey, Robb Stark cements his position as King of the North by leading more battles against the Lannisters and Arya tries to escape to the North with Yoren and the Night's Watch, the late Robert Baratheon's brothers Stannis and Renly gather their forces to make their claim to the throne. If that sounds like it would make for a narrative even more packed and complex than that of 'A Game Of Thrones', well, it does. Astonishingly Martin just about manages to keep all the juggling balls still in the air, though perhaps inevitably the strain does show at times. For all that, it's a thoroughly satisfying sequel, and the action-packed siege of King's Landing is even more exciting than anything in the first book.
|Another book, another map|
Arya Stark also finds herself allying with dubious powers. Yoren's attempt to save her and one of King Robert's bastards by smuggling them north with the new recruits for the Night's Watch is quickly and brutally punished in the way only Martin does. In the ensuing chaos, Arya assists dangerous Lothari madman Jaqen H'ghar, and so when Arya is captured by Gregor Clegane and forced to work as a servant at Harrenhal, he pays her back by offering to kill three people of her choice. She uses this new power to free the Lannister's Northern prisoners and help them take over the castle, but it is a tribute to Martin's gritty cynicism that the servants and workers are no better under the Northern bannermen's control than under the Lannisters.
While Arya and Stannis struggle with morality and fight to retain their souls, Theon Greyjoy cheerfully jumps right past the moral event horizon. Nothing more than a minor annoyance in the first book, in 'A Clash Of Kings' Theon becomes a viewpoint character and we get to find out what a toxic environment the inside of his head is. Much like Joffrey, he is revealed to be a twat before his villainy is revealed. Writing for Theon must be a delicate balancing act - he gets enough of a sympathetic backstory that we know exactly where he's coming from and why he is the way he is, whilst his actions always keep us from feeling any actual sympathy towards the character. The Greyjoys as a whole are just awful - parasites who smugly announce 'We Do Not Sow' because they get everything they need by thievery. Desperate to prove his worth, Theon betrays the Starks and takes over Winterfell. His absolute lowest moment comes when he tries to kill Bran and Rickon, and failing to do that murders two similarly aged children to prove he will not be screwed with. As the quote at the top of the page shows, he has moments where he is quite savvy, but because he's an idiot he makes a series of spectacularly poor decisions and gets his thoroughly earned comeuppance.
|The Greyjoy words are "We're going to try our darndest to be worse than the Lannisters! Wish us luck!"|
'A Clash Of Kings' is also a great book for Sansa and Catelyn. Sansa continues to grow and develop as a character, showing remarkable fortitude in the face of adversity, for what good it does her. At least by the end of the book she is no longer betrothed to Joffrey, though how much good this does her in the long run is debatable. She also acts as the audience's viewpoint on Cersei Lannister for much of the book. Cersei herself gets a fair bit of character development as well, even having a couple of humanising moments as well as neatly summing up how Martin's universe works. Jaime only appears for one scene, but it's a good one, as he baits Catelyn in his cell at Riverrun. Catelyn continues to exemplify the Tully family motto: 'Family. Duty. Honor." Whilst dealing with her grief, she frequently winds up being the only sane man in a world with more than its fair share of hotheads and idiots. Martin's cheap trick of making her believe that Bran and Rickon are dead really stings; the poor woman has enough on her plate already. Meanwhile the threat beyond the Wall grows ever greater as Mance Rayder gathers the forces of the wildlings together for a massive assault; Jon Snow winds up having to seemingly betray his oath as a brother of the Night Watch and joins the wildlings in order to become a double agent.
The only major character I've not mentioned so far is Daenerys. There's a reason for that. While Martin finds plenty to keep her busy with over the course of the book - she leads her Dothraki raiders through a desert, meets a warlock and has a dream quest - her story is noticeably separate from everyone else's. While all the other characters' actions have impacts on the other characters' stories, creating a complex, interweaving narrative, nothing Daenerys has done so far has had an impact on this, nor has any of it effected her. Hopefully that will change in the next book, as at the end Illyrio Mopatis makes himself known again and provides her with the means to get her forces to Westeros. Hopefully next time round she will have more interaction with the main plot.
Oh, and yes, Tyrion does get to slap Joffrey again. I really hope this happens in every book.