Book report: A Clash of Kings (George R R Martin)

I saw the series “Game of Thrones” (which is effectively book one of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series), because everyone I knew was banging on about it, and I have to say it left me largely unmoved. However, at the end of it, certain elements – ok, I’m going to say it – the introduction of magic and dragons – left me with the profound impression that it was going the way of Chung Kuo (although Chung Kuo took about seven books before it finally careered off the tracks and lay twitching on its side) and The Amtrak Wars (did Tilley ever finish that series?).

The arrival of the supernatural is not, in short, usually a good sign.

So naturally, with all the enthusiasm of an ambulance-chasing lawyer, I bought book 2, “A Clash of Kings” and dived in. I was wrong. It doesn’t unravel, in fact other than the chapters dedicated to Daenerys, it’s a pretty tight story and superbly paced. Martin knows how to create compelling characters of both genders, although unfortunately he has dumped them into a world only slightly less sexist than Gor.

Despite the good story and good characters, this book is not without its frustrations. Martin suffers from a Cecil B. DeMille tendency to sprout characters like mushrooms popping up after an autumn rain, which isn’t actually a problem except where he names them very similarly, as with Tyrion and Tywin, which my eye consistently scanned interchangeably. As with all epic books, there are bits you skip. With Tolkien, that’s the songs (O Tom Bombadill! Tom Bomba-yeah-whutevvah *flip*flip*flip*); and if you’re below a certain age, all the political bits because you’re desperate to find out what happens to the Hobbits and really don’t care about a sexually frustrated bird with a mad dad.

With Martin, the bits you skip are:

– the lengthy descriptions of food (they eat a lot of lamprey)
– the lengthy descriptions of what people are wearing (slashed velvet everything)
– the really awful sex.

Unfortunately, none of these are flagged up by being written in verse form so you’re just going to have to keep your flippin’ fingers primed.

Martin’s other problem is the lack of a good editor, which results in some real clunkers, like the use of “truth be told” four times in a six page section, and this sort of thing:

“She followed him out onto the stone balcony that jutted three-sided from the solar like the prow of a ship”

Wait. How many sides? Does he mean the aft of a ship, or has he never seen a ship? What’s wrong with “jutted from the solar, like the prow of a ship”?


“Janos Slynt was a butcher’s son, and he laughed like a man chopping meat.”

Pardon? What, really? You’re going with that? I’m trying to form a mental image here, but I think I’m getting static.

In addition to the type of error mentioned above, the course of a reader’s true love was further undermined by the fact that I was reading the Kindle edition and, as with many Kindle texts, there is a motley collection of OCR errors, such that every now and then words like “corn” are reproduced as “com” and “lie” occasionally appears as “he” etc.

None of these are major gripes, but each one is a small derailment which takes you out of the story and dumps you on your arse in your living room.

In short, it’s a very engaging story with occasional lapses into Dan Brownism, but if you’re after a ripping yarn, pick it up and dive in.

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