A Clash of Kings: Winter is Coming

                 

Twice in ten pages George R R Martin compared slicing a throat to cutting a soft cheese. So I’m not going to tell you that the writing in the Song of Ice and Fire series is inspired, but the plot is compelling enough. Just compelling enough in this, the second book of the series. I found it slow to get going – something like 300 pages were spent recapping the events of the first book – and slower still to reach anything approximating a climax. I suppose that as the second book in a yet unfinished series you can’t have all the big events take place at once, but all the same I could have handled a little more urgency. I will blame the less then captivating plot for taking something like three weeks to read it. I also have this little thing of a cross-country move going on. I expect that took up some mental time, so it’s not all GRRM’s fault. And this isn’t a blog about Blame, so…

I’m not sure how I feel about Bran – as a character I expect we readers are meant to feel sympathy for his plight as a non-walking, non-climbing would-be knight, and then to feel triumphant for him when he discovers his wolf-ish powers, but I for one find his whining tone to be just this side of annoying. Especially in contrast to his sister Arya who has her own share of terrible shit to deal with, but does so with a certain determination and a willingness to be depressed about how EVERYTHING has gone wrong but to still Be Strong. This mantra that underpins the actions and thoughts of the Stark children – Be Strong – sometimes reads as a bit self-help, but usually reads as a sort of inspiring mantra that could bear repeating in an era of cynicism and skepticism towards anything optimistic or sincere. This reader simultaneously wanted to say ‘oh come on, get on with it,’ and to also say, ‘yeah. BE strong.’ In this sense I suppose the novel gets at this reader’s hesitancy to believe in, accept or acknowledge the virtues the Starks are meant to embody – of honesty, integrity, strength – all the while earnestly (and secretly) yearning for a return to these values. Is this what fantasy is all about? Allowing readers to indulge in a nostalgic time of sincerity while squaring that sincerity with a world that demands irony?

So I’ll keep going with the series after reading a few other things. I could use a break from the sometimes plodding pace, the unwieldy cast of characters and the bleakness of a world preparing for perpetual winter (though the winter where I am is decidedly absent) and the baseness of humanity propagated by war. I am curious to see how the magical elements are taken up in later books. And curious, too, I suppose about whether Honour is eventually rewarded with something other then betrayal, death, or magic-lady-smoke-baby-attack.

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