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Finally got around to reading the sequel to Game of Thrones. As much as I liked the first one, it took me months to pick up book 2. There’s no rush really since author George R.R. Martin is still writing the series. At the same time, you can’t let too much time pass or you forget key things about the 20 billion characters, and there’s no way I’m re-reading Game.

Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Clash of Kings picks up in step with the last beat of Game. Everyone is off on a quest: Arya is disguised as a boy off to the wall to take the black with rapists, thieves and other castoffs. Tyrion arrives at King’s Landing to serve as Hand while his father wars against Stark, Stannis, Renly and anyone else who’s proclaimed himself a king. Dany leads her three dragons and hungry, weary blood riders through the desert following the red comet in the hope it will somehow lead her back to the seven kingdoms to re-claim her throne.

The plot is too intricate to discuss without spoiling it so instead I’ll tell you what I loved because that’s always where the conversation ascends or descends to, depending on your state of mind. Unlike Game of Thrones, there aren’t any lulls in this one, no long stretches of set up where nothings actually happenings. Even the Bran chapters have a sense of urgency.

As Hand, Tyrion wastes no time playing the mighty players on the King’s counsel, including his sister Cersei. As the only Lannister who openly acknowledges that his nephew, the boy king Joffrey is a monster, it’s hard to tell which side Tyrion’s on at times:

The king, the priest, the rich man – who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? … All depends on the man with the sword … And yet he is noone.

In the North, Jon Snow and men of the Night’s Watch journey beyond the wall to investigate why Ben Stark and other rangers have not returned, why dead men walk and the trees have eyes again. What other dangers are making their way south? There’s talk of giants by day, and dreams of boys turning into wolves by night. Jon’s story is removed from the warring politics in the Seven Kingdoms so his chapters have a different atmosphere, which layers the story with more danger than any of the other characters can imagine.

Where Game tempts you with a taste of the supernatural, Clash of Kings douses you in it. Now that dragons are in the world again magic abounds and it’s not very cordial. Meanwhile Arya commands her own sort of murderous ghost without regret or any of the softness her sister Sansa still clings to.

Reading this story is so immersive you forget you’re reading until a line jumps out of you that seems straight from a fairy tale. One description of a sword:

…who fought with a blade called Dawn, forged from the heart of a fallen star.

I have to say I loved this book. The action is relentless and there really are no boundaries. Chaos reigns. Nobody is safe and everyone is on their own away from the ones they love, for the most part. Though I don’t usually re-read, I had to for a few of the chapters because so much happens in every direction. From a craft POV, if you want to learn how to write a scene packed with action study these books. There’s a battle scene that took my breath away with its humor and gore. Love this line:

As he stood over the body, someone caught him from behind with an ax…

George Martin must be inhuman. A Song of Ice and Fire is the sort of masterpiece even the best writers might make a deal with the devil to write. I’d give anything for a peak in his writing room. Do you think he has maps and notes on every wall in his house? How on Earth did he approach this? If we hug him will some of that genius rub off on us?

Coincidentally, I walked through his high school or grade school in Bayonne (I think?) this summer. They have A Game of Thrones on display in a glass case as soon as you walk through the door. I hope all the kids in Jersey read these books and take pride in where they’re from.

Check out his website, too. He has a What I’m Reading page that’s not been updated in years, but it’s a fun look at his influences all the same.  A Storm of Swords is next, but first I have to see if the Dirty HBO series made season 2 available on Netflix yet. The first one will make you blush if you’re unfortunate enough to have a relative try and watch it with you.

So who are your favorite characters? I call dibs on Snow, Tyrion and Arya.