Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Addictive Mishmash of Horror

38. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

39. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

I've been obsessively reading these sequels to A Game of Thrones, but after looking back at that review, I have to say my comments overall are rather similar.

A Clash of Kings introduces us to a few new point-of-view characters. We have Davos, also known as the Onion Knight, who is sworn to serve Stannis Baratheon, brother to the late King Robert. If the accusations of incest between Robert's wife Cersei Lannister and her twin Jaime are true (and we readers know they are), Stannis is the rightful heir to the throne. This doesn't stop younger and more charming brother Renly Baratheon from claiming the crown nor does it stop Cersei crowning her son Joffrey in the name of his alleged father. With Eddard Stark dead, his son Robb becomes the King in the North, a move that none of the claimants to the Seven Kingdoms like since it removes half their would-be territory.

Of course, we're still rooting for the Starks, but now we get a viewpoint into what's going on with Stannis, and it's scary. Melisandre, a priestess from faraway Ashai, wins the king's ear with the power of her god, R'hllor, the Lord of Light. Previously, we've had the "Seven" gods of the South, more clearly defined in the second book (The Mother, the Father, the Warrior, the Maiden, the Smith, the Crone, and the Stranger) and the nameless old gods of the North the Starks pray to. We've also got a viewpoint into Theon Greyjoy, formerly the Starks' ward, now returned to his father, the onetime Iron King, in hopes of an alliance. The Ironborn have different plans and Theon is driven to the deepest and most unforgivable of betrayals.

Meanwhile, our old friend, and my favorite character, Tyrion the Imp, becomes the King's Hand in his father's name and moves to skilful political and military wrangling that delighted my heart. The second book in the series is better structured, kinder to the characters, and a place where I really came to enjoy them, even the despicable Theon I found amusing.

What I love most about this series is that I find it unpredictable. Especially with fantasy and sci-fi, I can usually predict what's coming next. Not with George R.R. Martin, at least not in the second book. However, A Storm of Swords, while still engrossing, was not nearly as enjoyable for me. I think it's because I've finally caught on to how Martin does things and also because I'm beginning to detect small flaws and inconsistencies, and a number of printer errors in my copy didn't help either. While after the first book, I expected all minor characters to die sooner or later and I wasn't holding out hope for a good deal of the major characters either (one of my predictions is that none of the major characters from the first book will be alive in the last, but we'll see), but now I'm seeing that every move leads toward escalated conflict, to an insensible degree. I understand that is most of why the series is so addictive, because there's always the tension of what will happen next, but I often don't like what happens next (but yes I am having an emotional reaction, which is some success for Martin), and most damningly, characters' actions aren't making sense to me in terms of how they've been characterized. Lord Tywin, father to Cersei, Tyrion, and Jaime, seems especially erratic, as does Jaime, who now emerges as a likeable POV character. I don't get what Stannis' deal is in this book nor the Hound and Arya gets less and less likeable and more and more screwed. I don't like that Tyrion's not in power either and how he gets treated seems very odd and just to mess with the readers.

Probably, the characters' motivations and complications are all very clear to Martin and I was able to make a lot of predictions based on clues earlier. Like, I'm not surprised the Hound turned out to do something good, I know Ser Jorah was reporting on Dany and I kind of suspected that Whitebeard was Barristan Selmy. But. Motivations for certain actions still don't seem clear to the reader and I think it's more a function of trying to add in as much action and gratuitous violence as possible than of showing how complex the characters are. I could be wrong, this could be deeper than I know. The only way to know is to read all of it, though it's not all out yet. Still, I'm taking a break from A Song of Ice and Fire for now while I'm stewing and I'll get back to it later.

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