A Clash of Kings
George R. R. Martin
Some people might tell you that A Clash of Kings broadened scope and fresh perspectives are what make it such an engrossing read. Some might say that Tyrion’s scheming is top notch, or the Hound really gets some fantastic character moments. But really the thing that makes A Clash of Kings worth reading is one man. Dolorous Edd Tollett.
Introduced on page 180 (of the ebook version) as follows:
Jon was paired with dour Eddison Tollett, a squire grey of hair and thin as a pike, whom the other brothers called Dolorous Edd. “Bad enough the dead come walking,” he said to Jon as they crossed the village, “now the Old Bear wants them talking as well? No good will come of that, I’ll warrant. And whose to say bones wouldn’t lie? Why should death make a man truthful, or even clever? The dead are likely dull fellows, full of tedious complaints—the ground’s too cold, my gravestone should be larger, why does he have more worms than I do…
That last bit is brilliant. But it only gets better. I chuckled at this line “All I smell is the shit of two hundred horses. And this stew. Which has a similar smell now that I come to sniff it.” Dolorous Edd has a pretty strong following on the internet, particularly as he is a character whose primary job is to complain with droll humor. I can’t say why in particular Dolorous Edd enchanted me as much as he did but I found myself looking forward Jon Snow’s chapters in A Clash of Kings more as a result. For such an event and plot driven novel that Martin has such command over the characterization of even the most minor players is impressive almost beyond belief.
Of course the rest of the novel, sans Dolorous Edd, isn’t anything to snub your nose at either. There is less of a shock factor in A Clash of Kings than was present in A Game of Thrones. The first novel really focuses heavily on splitting apart the Starks of Winterfell and Martin’s careful characterization of each family member and their interactions early in the novel enhance the tragedy of Ned’s ultimate fate. A Clash of Kings is about destroying the careful peace built in years past. Old enmities are brought the surface after years of suppression while new atrocities engender new grudges. While great houses struggle small folk suffer and the House Stark grows ever further apart. While the novel is certainly less about the Starks than in the past each of them get their own perspective here.
Like in the previous novel the struggle of the four kings this novel serve as a tragic distraction from the threat gathering to the North. Beyond the wall Lord Commander Mormont has organized the largest ranging in years to investigate the threat of Mance Rayder (King Beyond the Wall) and the Others. The South (which from the Wall is everybody else) has no idea what is coming (House Stark being all but broken their words are so easily forgotten). Jon’s chapters remain the most traditional in the epic fantasy sense and his characterization is familiar to anyone who has followed the kitchen boy/former slave/farmer/shephard from humble begins to heroic heights. Of course with Martin nothing is ever certain but Jon’s life, while rife with violence and tragedy, does not have quite the same dark tint as the rest of the Stark clan.
Tyrion’s scheming is also in top notch here and in A Clash of Kings readers really get to see him in his element and, in my opinion, Tyrion is the real hero (or maybe protagonist is a better word) of A Clash of Kings. He isn’t the nicest of fellows and he may enjoy his power but he remains true to his duty and has a queer sense of honor that so few characters in this series ever manage to exhibit. Danaerys also gets a great moment to shine during her confrontation with Undying, a section that in hindsight actually foreshadows one of A Storm of Swords biggest surprises. This section of the novel, and comments made by other characters, also starts to bring in more magical elements to the story. I am a huge fan of Martin’s refusal to really delve into magic of Westeros. Almost wholly absent in A Game of Thrones its slow increasing over the course of the series really adds a certain unique quality to the series that I’ve not seen replicated in other fantasy novels.
Martin also expands on other areas of Westeros by including chapters from Theon Greyjoy’s and Ser Davos Seaworth (a smuggler turned knight from Dragonstone) points of view. Greyjoy’s home of the Iron Islands is reminiscent of viking society and his chapter’s introduce a new aspect of religion with their Drowned God. Theon’s chapters explore the ramifications of being a hostage/ward, particularly when your family doesn’t think much of outsider. Martin again does a fascinating job of painting Theon as somewhat sympathetic to start but increasingly deplorable as the novel progresses. Even when you hate Theon the most there is still something tragic about his course. Through Ser Davos reader get their first glimpse of King Robert’s brother Stannis. Harsh, uncompromising, and a bit of a stick in the mud it is obvious that Stannis will not make the best of Kings. Davos, knighted for saving Storm’s End during the last war, is honorable and loyal and very much looked down upon by his peers due to his low birth. In Davos you get another interesting perspective of a common man turned noble. Through Davos reader’s are introduced to another new religion: that of R’hllor. Neither R’hllor or the Drowned God are explored completely here, R’hllor’s faith continues to play an important role as the novels continue, but between them, the Seven, and the Old Gods there begins to emerge a fuller picture of faith in Westeros. The religious tension makes for some interesting confrontations and continues Martin’s tendency towards just dumping as much trouble into his world as is possible. It may not be detailed but it works quite well.
A Clash of Kings has a distinct feel apart from A Game of Thrones. It would take a better person then me to say which is the better. A Game of Thrones is taughter in its pacing and plot but it plays second fiddle to A Clash of Kings when it comes to scope. If you’ve read A Game of Thrones I would imagine you are already hooked. Rest assured that things continue to ramp up in A Clash of Kings as the world continues to erupt into further violence. Evan at its slowest A Clash of Kings remains an engrossing read that new readers, and old hats like myself will find difficult to put down.