So pretty much as soon as I finished A Game of Thrones (review here) I bought the Kindle version of this, the second installment of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga.
It picks up shortly after the end of the first book with the Seven Kingdoms in turmoil. Following King Robert’s death his son Joffrey sits on the throne, with his mother Cersei serving as his regent. Robert’s brothers, Stannis and Renly both make claims for the throne. Stannis, the older is the true heir but the younger Renly is far more popular and raises a great army.
Stannis’ Queen has adopted a new religion, headed by a mysterious priestess clad in red and many of his men are suspicious of this and apprehensive of the way the old gods are thrown aside. It appears that magic and the old ways are resurgent which may be due to the birth of the three dragons belonging to Daenerys, the exiled Princess who leads her band of nomadic warriors towards new cities.
Meanwhile, things are difficult for the Stark family. Robb is named King of the North and must fight Joffrey’s supporters and dispatches his mother, Catelyn, to try and negotiate a truce with the brothers.
Robb’s sister Sansa is betrothed to the increasingly abusive and sadistic Joffrey, imprisoned in his castle. His other sister, Arya has been spirited out of the city disguised as a boy, but with raiders and rival armies roaming the countryside her route home to Winterfell is set to be arduous.
Winterfell faces problems as well, the absence of it’s lord meaning it catches the eye of other ambitious parties, and places Robb’s younger brothers in danger. And Bran, struggling with the injuries which have crippled him finds himself tormented by strange dreams.
Stark’s bastard, Jon journeys north of the wall into the wild North to investigate the disappearance of several members of the Watch and others, and discovers a new threat.
Across the sea, Daenerys finds that the dragons open doors for her but also that many would take them from her.
And Joffrey’s uncle, Tyrion must survive the various intrigues of court, including his sister’s machinations as he attempts to defend the city and win back the public who Joffrey has alienated.
Like in the first book the action moves around a lot, with each chapter being told from the third person perspective of a set character. This means that it allows us to view the unfolding war from various sides and rather oddly means that you end up rooting for members of rival factions, especially in the case of Tyrion, who’s clever and sardonic manner makes him one of the most likable characters in the book, especially given the revulsion he feels for his cruel nephew.
Martin ensures that each character is sympathetic and has an individual viewpoint, and that the tone of their chapters are different. Different characters view unfolding events through the prism of their own experiences and personal prejudices and bias, just as we all do in real life.
His characters are wonderfully crafted and he avoids simply doing good vs evil, its a complicated world that he’s created, filled with intrigue and double crossing, the characters laying schemes and playing politics to get what they want.
That’s not to say its not action packed, peril and violence are never far away, lurking in the background and bursting forward in extremely brutal attacks and the battle sequences are written with great intensity and energy. The fights are fast paced, chaotic things which is probably how old style battles would appear.
Its also nice that he’s slowly introducing more and more fantastical elements, which were just background in the first until the arrival of the dragons, but here there’s a sense of monsters reappearing and the world changing around the characters.
Martin is a highly talented writer, infusing the novel with a kind of wry wit and mixing the brutality with more subtle character moments, creating a believable, incredibly detailed and highly engaging world.
Verdict: An incredibly well written book and lots of fun, a real page turner and now I have to get part 3. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.