I read A Game of Thrones back in May and absolutely LOVED it. It's seriously one of my favorite reads this year. I meant to get to A Clash of Kings in June, but book club picks and a few other titles resulted in this book getting the back burner. I'm glad I was able to get to it in July though, because this book is HEFTY (and I then proceeded to read A Storm of Swords right after, which is even heftier...). I actually finished reading this almost three weeks ago (I think), but then I got really busy, and then when I did come to write this review down, I realized I didn't really have any notes on it (I read most of this at my cottage), so then I wasn't really sure what to say. I'm still not sure how I'm going to word this review, so it might come out a little sloppy. Also, please keep in mind that I've finished Storm of Swords, so I'm going to be mentioning some stuff that happens in that book as well (though I'll avoid spoilers for Storm of Swords and save them for the review. ;) )
Anyways, all in all, I liked this volume in the series, but I can see why people consider it one of the weaker ones in the series. There's a heft to it, but not a whole lot to chew on.
Spoilers from here on out. You have been warned!!
(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/15672.html)
As mentioned above, one of the things that kind of drove me crazy about this book was the LENGTH. Yes, it wasn't *that* much longer than it's predecessor, but it felt like there was a lot of length when there really didn't need to be. In Game of Thrones, TONS of stuff happened; in this volume... not so much. We're introduced to a lot of new characters who become important in the next volume and Renly bites the bullet, which was probably the most shocking event in the novel. But other than that, not a whole lot else happens. There are a lot of battles, most of them "off-screen" (except for the one at the end, which was mostly awesome from what I can remember -- I was reading it at 2am, so a lot of it is fuzzy in my mind), lots of people bickering over who should be the rightful king (LOTS of bickering) and lots of people being assholes and douchecanoes.
Also, one of my favorite characters, Dany, gets the serious backburner in this volume. She's hardly around, and when she is, she isn't doing a whole lot. I felt like there was very little advancement in her storyline, except for at the very end, when she goes to the temple place or whatever and has the crazy visions. I hardly remember anything else that happens to her because none of it felt especially important. I guess it was to show that she's really struggling, and that wanting to reclaim your throne is all good and dandy, and having dragons is awesome, but there's still a long road ahead for her.
Arya's story was quite interesting and I think some of my favorite chapters, especially when they featured Jaqen. That dude is CREEPY. Seeing poor little Arya get beaten down so much was heartbreaking though. That poor child is so angry, and this becomes even worse in Storm of Swords. Poor kid just can't catch a break.
I think one of the big problems this book suffers is "middle book syndrom". When Martin first started writing this series, it was meant to be a trilogy. Then, when it became apparent that there was way too much for it to be a single trilogy, Martin decided to split it up until two trilogies. With that in mind, it's understandable why this book is so lacking compared to the first and third. The first introduces us to new world and all these characters. The third book ends with a huge BANG (actually, the whole book is a series of big bangs to be honest) and follows up on all the build up of the second volume. And that's what a lot of this is .... build up for the stuff to come. None of it was BAD, but it wasn't nearly as engaging as the first and third volume. Of course, the book is no longer two trilogies either. It's now planned to be seven books that all follow one another. But anyways.
I'm curious what direction this series is going in. This volume perpetuates that the end game is Dany swooping in with her dragons and seriously messing everyone up and claiming the throne, but Martin does have a habit of diverting the reader's attention and keeping us on our toes (mine at least; I find most of the twists in the series pretty surprising). It becomes a lot more obvious in the third volume that the series will probably take another direction than this squabbling over the throne, though I don't think that will ever be pushed to the background either. It just feels like Martin is keeping it in the foreground to camouflage something bigger that's soon to come.
I could also be completely wrong through. I suppose we'll see. ;)
Final Verdict: I liked this installment in the series well enough, but I can see why it's considered one of the weaker volumes. There's a huge page count, but it feels like not nearly as much happens in this second volume than in the first (and as I know, the third as well.) I think a lot of this could've been edited out, as there was a LOT of description, though to be fair, that's just a steeple of the epic fantasy genre. Anywho, there isn't nearly as many shocking moments in this book as in the first and third, and the book feels like it suffers from "Middle Book Syndrome". This novel also seems to indicate that the end game of the series is ultimately who ends up on the throne, but I think that there's going to be something more epic to come. However, this book doesn't give many hints towards that, so it mostly ends up feeling like a book that has a whole lot of dickery and douchebaggery. I still liked it though, and it certainly didn't dissuade from the series at all, which is obviously good.