A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin What I like best about GRRM is how he uses his characters. Maybe "uses" is too light a word. No, he dunks them in icy cold water, and scrubs and beats them as if they were dirty rags. He then twists and wrings them dry until they are tightly wound knots, and lays them out to bake on a moss-covered boulder under a smoldering sun. When they are stiff and dry and bleached, he begins the process anew.

I don't know which character hasn't gone through a lifetime's worth of hardship, and then some. All characters have suffered and caused suffering, murdered and plotted, and yet we are still sympathetic to their troubles and ambitions. Bran--the black horse, especially when considering his comparatively passive role in the first book--is slowly starting to become of my most favorite characters. Tyrion is one of the most three-dimensional fictional characters ever. As vile as she is, Cersei's motivations are understandable, given her personality and ambitions. I acutely felt the anger and helplessness of Catelyn Stark as her children slip away from her one by one. I even felt sympathy for Sansa--arguably one of the least favorite characters of the books--who so quietly wishes for the death of those who've wrong her, while on the outside she curtsies and mouths pleasantries. It's these hardships and their quiet adversity that builds these characters and makes us sympathize with them, and GRRM does a fine job in challenging them, breaking them, and restoring them.

The narrative was beautiful. I am really curious to see how HBO is going to represent the white city and Qarth. I also wish that GRRM spent more time North of the Wall, rather than in King's Landing. I appreciate political intrigue and all, but man, it's the north of the freaking Wall, where anything goes. Uncharted territory. Danger. Snow. Death. I honestly thought that if GRRM focused all of his attention and skill just to Jon Snow's POV and wrote a book, he would still have a bestseller. Jon Snow is in a different world altogether as his quest is much more abstract and hearkens back more to "high fantasy" (except for the incest and the cursing and the filth), but I didn't mind. It was good to take a breather from all the deceit and beheadings and wander through the North with Jon.

Plot-wise, it was not as energetic as the first book, but as this is the “sophomore” book, I can understand that it's setting up the stage for (what I hear is) a climactic third book. Some parts are hard to get through if you're not a military buff or you're more in it for the characters, rather than the events. I had to force myself to read through Catelyn's POV earlier on because the story revolved around military strategy. Arya's parts were also difficult to get through, especially when she ended up in Harrenhal, because of the lack of activity and her lack of control. But overall, what this book achieves is much grander than many other books I have read.

Conclusion: Four stars compared to the first book, but five and more when compared to others.

I can’t wait to read the third book.