A Clash of Kings
I finished the book today. I’ve given it 4 stars on goodreads, where the average rating is 4.37.
The book was significantly easier for me to read than was the first one, in part because a lot of the main characters had already been introduced. There are plenty of new people joining the party in this book, but by now you have a basic framework to fit these people into which helps a lot.
I gather that there are characters for whom we’re supposed to feel sympathy featuring in this story, but they are few and sometimes it’s hard to like even the people whom you sort of assume you’re supposed to like. The types of people you’ll encounter in this narrative include mere children (many of the main characters are very young), and often children given way too much power way too early; dirtbags; fools; cowards; selfish jackasses; hateful ignoramuses; stubborn jerks; immature morons; greedy schemers, deceitful backstabbers; merciless murderers; and/or a combination of all of these things – an observation which I should point out, incidentally, is not meant as a criticism. This is rather part of what makes this book great, as is the fact that we’ll often learn people’s traits through their actions rather than through descriptions. People in these books to a significant extent behave the way you’d expect actual people to behave if they were to find themselves in the situations/settings/etc. the characters find themselves in – and we learn enough about the people and the social milieu to often understand quite well why they behave the way they do. But understanding why a person does something does not equate condoning said behaviour, which is part of why it may be hard to muster sympathy for a specific character and his/her actions. It should be noted that there are few ‘complete monsters‘ here; The Mountain and Sandor Clegane may be used as examples, as well as Joffrey – but at least the two of them we know most about (Sandor and Joffrey) are described in enough detail for us to understand at least something about how they’ve ended up the way they have, and why they behave the way they do. They are horrible people, and I’d be surprised to meet a person who’s read the first two books and didn’t have some non-trivial desire to see the Joffrey character dead (the Joffrey character is probably the most well-done hate sink I’ve ever encountered), but they are not (..to me) unrealistically horrible people given the setting and what we know. They are rather human, all too human. A great thing about the story is that whereas the huge number of characters involved makes it near-impossible to know why all these people behave the way they do, we do get close enough to some of them to understand what’s going on and we’re constantly reminded that they all have their reasons for behaving the way they do, even if we don’t always know those reasons. And given that Westeros is a pretty crappy place at this point (though I have no doubt it’ll likely get worse), it should not surprise us that most of the people involved in this narrative don’t exactly behave like angels – I’ve touched upon related themes before.
I feel the need to point out that the prose in this work is nothing extraordinary; sometimes the language felt excessively ‘rough’ and ‘raw’ and in need of ‘polishing’. Then again perhaps that’s just me, I’ve sort of taken a liking to works where the author deliberately plays around a bit with the language, like e.g. Pratchett is wont to do in his works – but it is part of why I only gave it 4 stars, rather than 5. I guess the semi-neutral position here would be to simply remark that you shouldn’t read this book for the quotes – the language isn’t what’s driving this story, nor should it be; and it does work well enough to tell the tale.
I’m toying with the idea of reading the rest of the published series this summer as well. We’ll see. The books are quite long, but they don’t actually take all that long to read and the page count should not scare you away; as I’ve noted before I consider myself to be a rather slow (well, another word to use is ‘careful’, but…) reader, yet I can read one of these guys during a long weekend (2-3 days) without problems. Then again I don’t have much of a social life – if you do and you can’t just take a few days out of your life to read books like these, it’ll probably take you a bit longer than that. On the third hand the best time of year for most people to read books like these is probably now, or soon. As noted in the comments earlier it’s certainly possible to ‘save time’ by just watching the tv series instead and skip the books, but what I can tell you at this point is that the books are worth reading on their own.
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