Monday, August 22, 2011

1999 Locus Fantasy – A CLASH OF KINGS by George R. R. Martin

Before I move onto the last decade of coverage, I wanted to tie up one loose end from the ‘90s (that I didn’t read in time to hit in the natural order…but close enough). This is going to be a very short review, even though it’s another rather long, epic book. Why so short? Two reasons: 1) It’s too difficult to discuss the plot much without spoiling major plot points from A Game of Thrones. 2) this whole post can be summed up rather neatly in three words: I. Was. Wrong.

Now, I wasn’t that wrong. I gave the first novel a solid B, which is not all that bad by my grading standards. But, I also complained that the book had a lack of world-building, over-reliance on shallow conceptions of medieval Europe, and a focus on nobility (in many different senses of the word) that I found off-putting. This volume so directly addressed and overcame those objections, that I can’t help but think I completely misjudged, maybe even misunderstood the previous volume.* The world-building here is amazing. Several new elements are added, religion and magic are fleshed out, and characters spends much of the novel discussing the history of the continent of Westeros. This is certainly the most background information I’ve seen in a novel series this side of Tolkien. These historical interludes could feel like unnecessary diversions, but each manages to illuminate or resonate with the situations the characters find themselves in. All of the characters show off greater depth, and I have growing sympathy for some of the “evil” characters of the first novel, while the “good” characters are forced to make some very tough ethical choices. Finally, we see how hollow the concepts of chivalry and aristocracy are, while also witnessing more of how the struggles for power between the principle characters impact the lives of the “small folk,” and also how they can and will make their own voices heard, even in a strictly hierarchical world.

I do still have a few complaints though. Two books in, and it *still* feels like Martin is mostly moving the pieces into place. The story is very intricate and chaotic at the same time, and it only seems to get moreso with each passing chapter. I don’t really have a sense of narrative structure here, and I can only hope that Martin has some kind of plan. Also, one of the characters and his storyline were so annoying that they drove me nuts (*cough*Theon*cough*). It’s one of those things where I have to give a grudging respect for the author for managing to get such a rise out of me…but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. Maybe Martin will address these objections as well as the series goes on.

Also, what a lousy cover. It really misrepresents the tone of the series. The newer, simpler paperback covers are much nicer.

This was a great read, and I’m looking forward to seeing it on HBO next year and reading the next volume.

Grade: A-

*The excellent HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones (while will hopefully show up on next year’s Hugo ballot, preferably the whole series in “Long Form”) makes me feel the same way.

[Note: There was a long ranty post up here this morning about overreactions to Blackout/All Clear winning the Hugo. There's nothing sinister about my pulling it down; I just didn't think it was a very good post. It seemed kind of silly to rant about other people's rants, especially to defend a book I hardly liked.]

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