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

Wednesday, October 05, 2011
I finally finished this second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I have to think my reading experience was damaged by putting it down to read some books I had put on reserve at the library, then moving on to some lighter fare after that, before picking it up again last week and finishing the book. I found myself wishing it would be over with, which is not a good way to feel about a book.

Or maybe it's just that I'm not meant for epic fantasy. These books have so many points of view, it takes me several pages of a new chapter to bring all the related characters and the situation we last left this character in back into my memory. Just as I'm getting thoroughly involved in this part of the story, the chapter ends and a different character steps forward to continue his or her tale.

I confirmed that my being overwhelmed by the number of characters wasn't exactly my fault. At the back of the book there is a list of all the major characters and their affiliated minor characters. This goes on for pages. And pages. This saga employs a cast of hundreds, if not thousands.

This is not to say that the book is poorly written. Quite the contrary. There are places where the words are stunning. I wondered how Martin comes up with some of the vivid descriptions he uses. And there are some characters I'm thoroughly invested in: Jon Snow, Danys, Tyrion, Arya. I really do care what happens to them.

I think you need more than an hour during lunch to read this series in the way it should be read. They're the kind of books you should sit down with in the morning and keep reading until you turn off the light at night. Unfortunately, I no longer have days like that in my life.

I also found myself comparing A Clash of Kings to books in the other epic series I enjoy reading, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. I realized that there's a distinct difference between the two. While each book in the Outlander series stands as a complete story by itself, you're always acutely aware that you're only reading an installment of a continuing story when you read A Song of Ice and Fire. It's really one mammoth book in separate volumes. Going in you know that the story won't be over with when you finish the book. It reminds me of my experience with Dan Simmons' Hyperion.

I probably won't read another in this series for a while. Yes, I am invested in some of the characters, I would like to know what happens in the rest of the storyline, and Martin writes some incredible scenes. But I find the length and amount of detail too much work to get through to find that one bang-up scene that makes reading the book worthwhile. At least, for now. Perhaps if I had a two week vacation and could read a book straight through, I'd start the next one.

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A Clash of Kings
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