The second in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings carefully carries over all of the storylines from A Game of Thrones. Joffrey now sits on the throne, but his ascendance is contested by two of his uncles, Balon Greyjoy and Robb Stark. War is tearing the country apart, and Martin describes how terrible the war is for both the soldiers and the innocent smallfolk who are seemingly endlessly victimized.
A few new characters are introduced in this novel, including some wildlings, Theon Greyjoy’s family , and new characters for Daenerys to play off against. The recurring characters continue to develop, particularly the Stark children and Tyrion. Jon Snow is also growing, ranging beyond the Wall in the wilds of the North. The scenes beyond the Wall are excellent, I think, in that despite the description of the wild landscape, the characters seem very isolated and confined. This sense of claustrophobia is also echoed in the scenes set in the Red Keep, where the residents dwell in relative luxury but are captive of both their surroundings and the political machinations always churning in the background.
It was an excellent book, with the same wonderful characters from the first novel, but for me the narrative felt a little less urgent. There was a great deal more political intrigue, but I think the main reason the book felt a bit slower to me was that most of the main characters were in different locations, with much less interaction. I also think that the events in the first book really had a sense of inevitability, that it was obvious that Robert would die, something awful would happen to the Stark family, etc, whereas the second book does not have that same sense of hurtling towards one game changing event. I am a few chapters into A Storm of Swords now, and I am excited to continue the series.