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5.0 out of 5 stars Epic fantasy as compelling as it is complex, April 4, 2012
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This review is from: A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) (Kindle Edition)
As enthralled as I was by A Game of Thrones, the first book in this series, I really expected to take a break and read in some other genre after I finished that book. Oh, I tried; but it was not to be. About 100 pages into the history I chose I found myself wanting to know more about the epic struggle in Westeros and how the events in the first book were casting ripples from Westeros, across the Narrow Sea and to the lands beyond.

I'm convinced George R.R. Martin is producing literary crack with his stories of the battles and the intrigues of this fictional land. I almost referred to Westeros as a "mythical" land, but that would have fallen short as a description. Mythic has always seemed to refer to larger-than-life characters. In A Clash of Kings the characters are life-sized and very human. They are also very complicated, neither entirely good nor entirely evil. Even when they may do evil things, their motivations seem truly human and understandable. There are no "classic" bad guys who chortle with glee when their nefarious plans come to fruition. I even found myself empathizing with Cersei and her son, King Joffery, who are arguably the least likable characters.

Not only does Martin produce fascinating characters, but the world of Westeros is masterfully built. Rather than throw tons of exposition at readers all at once, Martin lets the kingdoms blossom slowly and we are constantly making new discoveries. Take, for example, his decriptions of the religions of Westeros. In A Game of Thrones he offers some details of the new gods and the old gods. In A Clash of Kings he adds new details that enhance what has come before. The technique adds layers of depth to the story.

Likewise, the world Martin created is a morally neutral one. Evil sometimes triumphs. Good sometimes get corrupted. Even the most noble characters can die (as we learned in the first book). Martin isn't afraid to turn the conventional wisdom of fantasy on its head (or even shake them up, toss them in a literary food processor, and serve up the results to readers). As a result - at least in the first two works - you get a series weaving traditional fantasy threads through a world that feels very natural and organic.

I've purposely avoided discussing the plot of A Clash of Kings. That's partly because any synopsis I could write would pale in comparison to Martin's complicated, yet readable, plotting. That he can keeps us reading while his plot runs from battlefields to bedchambers to the froze land beyond The Wall to the Red Waste across the Narrow Sea is nothing short of amazing. Couple that with some of the most fascinating characters I've ever encountered between the covers of a book and you have an absolute winner. Tyrion, Jon Stark, Arya, Caitlyn ... I'd almost swear these were flesh-and-blood people who allowed me to look over their shoulders.

It's nearly impossible to heap enough praise on Martin's series, but allow me one more observation: rather than taking a break after completing A Clash of Kings, I've already downloaded the next in the series, A Storm of Swords, and will eagerly dive into it tonight.
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