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Book Review: A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

At a time when A Game of Thrones is a hot topic, I really want to keep the fervour going because it is SO WELL DESERVED! As some of you may know, I have been re-reading the books since around December last year. My reading schedule meant that I couldn’t fit the whole series in before the TV show, but never mind! It doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of it at all! Are you reading the books or watching the last season?

Today, I’m reviewing my recent re-read of A Clash of Kings.

 

A Clash of Kings

Goodreads – A Clash of Kings

A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who hold sway over an age of enforced peace are dead, victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.

It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel…and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.

Here is the second volume in George R.R. Martin magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Storm of Swords. As a whole, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, bringing together the best the genre has to offer. Magic, mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure fill these pages and transport us to a world unlike any we have ever experienced. Already hailed as a classic, George R.R. Martin stunning series is destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

 

My Thoughts…

Where book one of the Song of Ice and Fire series sets the scene for a long haul conflict that spans the remainder of the series, A Clash of Kings is the true beginning of the conflict. A Clash of Kings introduces a number of new characters (and dragons) to the game, including new chapters from the perspectives of Davos and Theon. The growing war over the true heir to the Iron Throne drives great change into the lives of many. Every character has a unique storyline.

It isn’t something I noticed until I went back to the beginning, but the complexity and sophistication of the character relationships and narrative develops gradually throughout the books. It was only making the jump back from A Dance with Dragons to the beginning again that I noticed how simple things were in the early days… by comparison anyway.

Even though the complexity increases, never have I found each character arc difficult to follow. Each character perspective is re-visited frequently enough that we don’t forget where they are and what they are up to. Geographically, the narrative is far more diverse than A Game of Thrones. However, as we are building on a sturdy foundation of geography, history and lore already established, the progression feels natural, not confusing.

I can talk about the love of my series all I like; in the grand scheme of things, my review is unlikely to make a difference about whether someone picks up the series or not. Arguably the TV series has been the greatest influence on book sales, with 8 million copies of A Game of Thrones being sold following the airing of the first season (source: Forbes). It’s a topic that a lot of people are talking about right now, and as a lover of the books and the TV show, jointly and severally, I am proud to be a part of the community.

 

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Book Review: A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

How does anyone even begin to write a review of the first book in such a popular series? I have read A Game of Thrones no less than three times now, so I am as best equipped as I am going to be!

Goodreads – A Game of Thrones

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Goodreads

My Thoughts…

There is a perfect balance of diplomacy and war, court intrigue and scandal; politics and religion and conflict and magic. It has all the elements of great fantasy novels, brilliantly written and interwoven to create the driving force behind the tale towards its yet-unknown conclusion.

I can come back to this book again and again and never be bored, and that owes to the sheer depth of the narrative. One of my favourite elements of A Game of Thrones is that there are many clear, distinct chapters from a wide range of characters. As much as I say this, it was the character-neutral prologue and the chilling, deathly magic of the Others that sold A Game of Thrones to me all those years ago.

It would be a failure on my part not to acknowledge the rich history of the fantasy world. Before the series has even been concluded, there are a number of books which delve only into the history of the world without touching on ‘current affairs’. With other book series, I have gotten the sense that background detail and setting builds and becomes more sophisticated as it develops. These pale by comparison to A Game of Thrones. From the get-go, the background context of each place, family (past and present, major and minor), events and magical races have already been developed and in existence long before the first words were committed to paper.

It is as if the lands of Essos and Westeros have not been conjured out of the mind of a literary genius… but rather that they have always been there, just waiting to be discovered.

I can’t say I would ever care to visit though…

As rich in detail as the books are, I didn’t find the descriptions or contextual details overwhelming. Each and every one of these books is substantial, so there is no need to rush in providing the detail. In reality, there is so much detail that even the most die-hard Game of Thrones fans would struggle to remember them all to a letter. Often, contextual details are cleverly repeated in a way that refreshes the reader without making the narrative clunky or repetitive. Without these references, it would be easy for anyone to get lost.

I am in a position in which I can look back on the first book of the series, having read them all to date; in fact, I have recently begun a re-read of A Storm of Swords, book three of the series. By comparison, this first book is ‘simpler’ than the rest. I would argue that a lot of the character interactions and their consequences are yet to develop. In this sense, the book makes for an ideal introduction to the start of the epic conflict of the five kings (and one queen).

The perspectives we live this magical tale through are an experience in themselves. The characters and their take on the world are completely unique to one another. What impresses me the most, the variety of the characters that George R. R. Martin successfully navigates around the chessboard of life coming a close second, is how consistent the characters are. They are all shaped by the influences of their family, their history and own personal experiences. Juggling so many characters, you would think it very easy for the lines to blur between them. I would like to suggest that at this stage I know many of the characters almost as well as my own sister. I haven’t ever identified an inconsistency in them. Ever. That, my friends, is bloody amazing!

To top it all off.. dragons! Need I say more?

The Song of Ice and Fire novels are truly an experience to be had… so get out there! Watch the show or read the books, whichever your preference. To those that stay away from it because of the hype and fandom, don’t avoid it because it’s too ‘mainstream’ and because not gushing over it makes you ‘cool’. It’s popular for a reason; you are the ones missing out.

I feel like I have barely scratched the surface… and yet to continue I would find myself prattling nonsense, or repeating myself. For someone who didn’t even know how to begin, I haven’t done too badly!

Words cannot truly express just how much I love this book and the remainder of the series. The only way to know whether you will enjoy it or not is to try for yourself.

Throwback Thursday Mini-Review: Seraphina & Shadow Scale – Rachel Hartman

Goodreads – Seraphina

Goodreads – Shadow Scale

In her New York Times bestselling and Morris Award-winning debut, Rachel Hartman introduces mathematical dragons in an alternative-medieval world to fantasy and science-fiction readers of all ages. Eragon-author Christopher Paolini calls them, “Some of the most interesting dragons I’ve read in fantasy.”

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

 

My Thoughts…

If you are looking for fantasy geared for young adults, then these books may just be for you.

Seraphina really finds herself thrown into the thick of the action, and she is far from safe in her position at court. Her story is intriguing and the characters make a refreshing addition to the genre. The novels’ take on the presence of dragons is entirely new to anything I have read before. The book deserves reading for that reason alone.

As an introspective person, Seraphina’s mind-garden appeals to me. It is a place to meet a multitude of personalities that live… well, in her mind! Like a caretaker, it is her duty to tend to the garden and those that live within it. If things become discordant, it affects Seraphina physically.

The personalities within her mind are obscure, but we come to know and love their quirks like children. Characters that come to mind even now, three years after reading the books, are Miss Fusspot and Fruit Bat. Each is distinctive, and Seraphina’s interpretations of her fellow ityasaari make more sense later on – no spoilers!

The biggest selling point for both books, in my view, is the gorgeous narrative. The descriptions of music are phenomenal, which makes the text flow beautifully as a result. There is also an immense attention to detail, drawing out each character and scene vividly.