Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review: A Clash of Kings

Ok, I was iffy on continuing with the series after Game of Thrones, but because Luke and I enjoyed discussing it so much, I decided to continue and I'm so glad that I did!  The second book really steps things up, plus some of the Nesties are reading it now, so I'm discussing with them as well.  It really defies summary, though.  I can't tell you what it's about without going into super long, boring detail and ruining parts of the first book, so the best I'll give you is a link to the Goodreads page.  If you are just DYING for a summary you can read what the publisher has to say about it here.  Basically, in this one, there are a lot of people who have declared they are kings and they are clashing over who will be THE king.  I will try to limit major spoilers, but I will be mentioning specific characters and how they evolve, so if you are like Luke and don't even want to know which characters are still living in each book, avert your eyes.  On to the review:

I feel like Gurm did a bit better with his writing in this one.  In my review of Game of Thrones I listed my issues with the writing - here's an update on how I think Clash of Kings improved in those areas:

Characterization: In Game of Thrones I took issue with the lack of characterization.  I found many of the characters to be flat and static - basic stock characters.  To some degree this remains the case: Joffrey is still a sociopathic, evil little twit.  But, many of the main characters develop more fully in this book.  Sansa, Sandor Clegane, and Jon Snow are three who really came to life for me in this one.  Rather than remaining flat and static, we see them evolve as people and nuances into their personalities are introduced.  I love learning what a character's motivations are, and Gurm has shown himself to be very good and slowly revealing layers of motivations.  I particularly loved Sandor Clegane's experience during the seige of King's Landing and the way Gurm wove his history into that scene.

Predictability: I continue to waver on this one.  On one hand, I see a lot of the "twists" coming.  On the other hand, they usually still take me by surprise due to pacing and such.  For example, I may "know" that a character is going to die due to heavy handed foreshadowing, but the circumstances surrounding the character's death will completely shock me.  But there is still some aspect of "whatever I think is least likely to happen will happen".  I've also decided that Gurm is very good at keeping the reader emotionally invested in the story.  Just when I feel that all hope is lost and I'm so disheartened by circumstances, he will bring my hope back with a rousing battle speech or act of heroism.

Plot Complexity: Again, I think this improved to some degree but not enough to make it particularly good writing.  We still have a million and one characters, places, and events, but Gurm did a much better job of developing histories for those people, places, and events and providing us with a deeper understanding of the world he has created. 

So overall, I'd say the writing has improved, but is still not what I would consider particularly great.


I have to say that my entertainment experience in reading this one was much better.  It's not that the first book didn't entertain me, but I was iffy on continuing the series.  Clash of Kings left no doubt in my mind that I will be finishing the series and eagerly awaiting the new installments.  I'm loving all of the story lines and there are times when I literally could not stop listening to the story.  Several nights I spent quite a few hours listening while I sewed or listening at my desk when work has been slow.  I also listened obsessively in my car.  The story definitely sucks you in, and the growth of the characters in this book led me to care much more about what happens to them.  The twists in the book keep you guessing and the pacing is more steady. 

I still maintain that sections are too detailed.  I like description that adds to the story or adds to the beauty of the words - Gurm's descriptions don't really do either.  The story is unchanged by a list of the 77 courses served at a feast or a description of each warrior's armor.  Such descriptions are also not emotionally evocative and don't contain any deeper symbolism.  They are just boring.  Thankfully, the descriptions are limited and always surrounded by various intrigues, shocks, and scandals.  I love a good backstabbing story and backs are stabbed left and right in this one.

My three warnings still remain: graphic sex that is also usually perverted in some way; graphic violence and depictions of war/torture; and if you're all worked up over the fact that these fictional people in a fictional medieval society do not treat women the way we want women in modern reality to be treated, you will likely not change your opinion after reading this one.

Taking those cautions into regard, I recommend the book for some of my readers.  This one is difficult because I am really enjoying it and the discussions I'm having with Luke and my friends as a result.  On the other hand, I am reluctant to recommend it to all of my readers because I know I have quite a few friends who wouldn't enjoy it.  Bestie, for instance, would hate this series. 

I think it's important, especially as I am open about my faith and obviously come to any book with a Christian worldview, to acknowledge that this book has some serious moral issues that many of my readers (and I myself) find offensive.  I do NOT recommend this book for teens and I do NOT recommend it for those who are easily swayed by what they read.  I do recommend it for people who are strong in their own beliefs and open to experiencing a worldview that exists outside of our own without the moral standards found in the Bible.  This is a fictional world where Christianity does not exist, so the questions raised regarding morality when there are no absolute moral standards are quite interesting and make for good discussion, especially in light of the fact that our society is largely made up of people who do not believe in absolute moral standards. 

I plan to address the issue of morality more in my review of the next book, but before I do I'd be especially interested in hearing feedback from any of you who have read the series on the morality in the book and how you would compare it to our culture's view of morality, especially if you have a point of view that differs from my own.  I'd love to be able to quote some others who have read this book and may feel differently about the content and the morality questions raised in the book than I do.

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