Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin

So, there are kings. And they clash. Stop now if you don’t want to be spoiled for either this book or Game of Thrones.

Robert is dead. His son Joffrey has been crowned king, but since Joffrey wasn’t actually Robert’s son, Robert’s brothers Renly and Stannis have each declared themselves king. And Robb Stark has proclaimed himself King in the North. And you can’t forget the exiled Targaryens – Daenerys is manuevering herself and her dragons into position. And with all the proclaimed kings fighting in the south, old rebels start to become restless.

There are some new points of view in this book, as the intrigues begin to extend. There’s Theon Greyjoy, who’s finally been released from the Starks (whom he doesn’t trust) and returns to his father (who doesn’t trust him). One of the most entertaining chapters is the chapter where Theon returns home and meets his sister for the first time in ten years.

And then there’s Stannis’s company, told from the point of view of one of his liege men. Stannis is, of course, the rightful king (as much as anyone is), but he’s gone about it almost entirely the wrong way. No one’s going to believe that Stannis is the true king until they know that Joffrey’s not, and Stannis waited far too long to declare himself and the truth. During the prologue, when he was still at Dragonstone, the impression I got from him was that he was waiting for other people to declare him king, because obviously he is since Joffrey’s not Robert’s son. But no one knows that, so how can they declare him king?

And then there’s Stannis’s number one ally: the red priestess. How creepy is she? Plus, there are vague hints that it’s a Christianity based religion: it’s the only monotheistic religion we’ve encountered, for one, and they call their god “Lord of Light”, which is very reminiscent to me of Jesus, light of the world. I don’t know if there are supposed to be parallels: she’s creepy no matter how you look at it.

Catelyn Stark is another interesting character. She’s very much in stasis since Ned’s death: continuing on beause she has to, existing just for her children. Everything she’s doing, she’s doing out of dutiful maternal love, not personal desire. I almost feel like I know her less in this book than I did in Game of Thrones. I think she’s either going to implode or explode before too long – she won’t be able to take the strain of losing all her roles so suddenly. In fact, depending on the outcome of her interview with Jaime Lannister, it might happen sooner than even I expect.

Sansa and Arya are in very different circumstances, but very similar situations. They’ve both been completely overwhelmed and left relatively powerless by the events around them (as, the feminist in me notes, women often are). Sansa stays within the situation and starts to make movements towards either changing it or at least adapting to it (there’s a great scene during the siege of King’s Landing where she temporarily takes control of all the women in the castle, and if she could marshal that power more often, she would be a much more interesting character). Arya, on the other hand, actively works to make her situation one that she has more control over. She fits herself to her circumstances, and then makes her circumstances work for her. She’s more intelligent than Sansa at doing this – but she’s also had more practice. Sansa will get there, I’m sure, but she just doesn’t have the experience of actually using her brain yet.

The other very interesting thing that has developed with Sansa is her relationship with the Hound. Here is this man who apparently hates everyone (with reason), is scarred beyond belief, and lives a life dedicated to violence – and yet he is the only one in Sansa’s current life who treats her with any sort of consideration, understanding, or help. This is Sansa’s main struggle in this book: moving from her idealistic view of Game of Thrones that her prince would rescue her and life would be perfect to accepting that the outer view of people is not always the accurate view of people. She’s still clinging on a bit to her dream of a knight in shining armor, but she is realising more and more – mostly because of the Hound’s attitude and actions toward her – that your rescuer may not come in the storybook guise you expect.

There’s not much for me to say about Jon in this book, at least until the end. His connection with the wolves makes him just as much of a Stark as Ned always claimed him as – I hope that someday he will accept it as his bloodright despite Catelyn’s attitude toward him. The end of Jon’s story in this book opens up all sorts of possibilities for the next few books, too – he’s joined the men in the North, but on orders from his current commander in the Black and in part to save his life and get information that ultimately (we hope) will get back to the Wall. I can’t wait to see what happens there.

Probably the most shocking/intriguing part of this book was Bran and Rickon’s end. First of all, Bran’s connection with the wolves is getting stronger and more deliberate. Second of all, the way that they escaped from Theon at Winterfell was nothing less than genius. I refused to believe that they were dead – although I started to have my doubts when they were describing the two boys’ bodies at Winterfell – but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t breathe an audible sigh of relief when Bran’s point of view came back. And that last chapter is amazing – detailing their plan, catching up with Bran’s development as a wolf-spirit (for lack of a better word), and sending them off in their separate directions to lead into the next book.

Which I’m going to start right about……..now.

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