As you might have noticed, I was off on holiday last week and A Clash Of Kings was my selection of holiday reading. Not the sort of light stuff people normally recommend for holidays, but then I was in the Lake District rather than lounging on a beach.

As ever, spoilers follow, so look away now and don’t click the link for more if you don’t want to know what happens.

Mainly a portrait of a land amidst the chaos of wartime, this keeps up the standard set by A Game Of Thrones. Martin set up a huge number of plot threads in that book, and this carries most of them on and even adds a few more into the mix. It takes a lot of skill to pull that off and it is sometimes a bit of a task to remember just where everyone is (and why they’re there) at any given time. (One disadvantage of reading the Kindle version is that you can’t keep flicking back to the map to check on locations)

One interesting stylistic choice of Martin’s is that none of the five kings involved in the war are viewpoint characters in this book. Indeed, while we do get much of Joffrey, Stannis, Renly and even Balon Greyjoy, very few of the characters we do get the story from directly interact with Robb Stark during the book, which much of the reports of his activity coming second-hand and usually with a spin of propaganda and myth about it. It’s an interesting way of depicting the fog of war in a mediaeval society, where information is at a premium and most strategic decisions have to be best guesses.

Having seen how quickly Martin managed to pull the rug out from under the feet of the reader in the first volume, I’m reluctant to speculate on how the overall story is developing but I’m getting the feeling that the main Westeros story line of the civil war is going to turn into a deeper message of people doing what seemed best at the time and then the perspective of time revealing what a mistake that was. The civil war is clearly sapping the strength of the land to fight, and every new intervention seems to only lengthen the war, rather than resolve it. It seems clear that Westeros is about to face two potentially great threats – Daenerys and her dragons in the east, and whatever’s coming down from beyond the Wall in the north – but almost everyone is distracted from them by their short term goals.

For me, the best example of this in the book is the fall of Theon. With hindsight, it’s clear that his original proposal to his father would have been the best option for both the Starks and Greyjoys, but when that’s rejected he becomes almost a tragic hero, consumed by his fatal flaw of needing the respect he feels is his due. It’s this that leads him back to Winterfell and his fall there, which weakens both sides. The only weak part of this tale for me is that we never got to see his perspective in the first novel which might have set this up slightly better, but it’s a minor quibble at best.

In short, another fantastic instalment in the series, and I’ll be moving onto A Storm of Swords soon.

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