Friday, November 28, 2014

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin -- Book Review

Photo: Hardcover for the book, from its Wikipedia page.  Not the edition I read.

You ever notice the longer a book is, the less you have to write about it?

Anyway, I suppose you wouldn't be reading this review if you haven't already a) read the book; b) seen the HBO series; or c) both, so I won't waste time writing about things you already know.

I'll just point out my favorite parts of this book.

1.  It reads very quickly.  Because it's 1,009 pages, this is no small thing.  Martin doesn't seem to get the recognition for his writing that he deserves.  I'm impressed by his vivid descriptions of just about everything.  Typically, overlong description is probably what Elmore Leonard meant when he said he tried to not write the parts people skip.  But when you're world-building as Martin is here, you really do have to describe almost everything.  This can be tedious in lesser hands.  But I found myself not skipping these parts.  In fact, I didn't skip any parts.  And a neat writerly trick I noticed from him: his sentences have much more alliteration, assonance and consonance than you'd think they would.  These things make the pages move.

2.  Daenerys's trip through the House of the Undying Ones was unbelievably well-written.  (And a figure in there murmurs the title of the entire series: A Song of Ice and Fire.)  Martin somehow encapsulates the themes of the entire series in one trip through this house, and does so both literally and figuratively--and mysteriously.  No small feat, since I've seen the episode already.  But seeing the show does not take away anything from the reading.  If you've been holding back for fear of that, don't delay any longer.

3.  The battle for King's Landing at the end was amazingly taut and suspenseful--again, no small feat, considering I've seen the episodes.  Even though you know what's coming, you're quickly turning the pages.

4.  Martin is able to delve deeply into all of his characters.  This is a helluva achievement because a) he writes about some women, notoriously difficult for a male writer to do; b) he gives equal time to every character, and there's a lot of them; c) he somehow holds it all together without confusing the reader; d) he knows just when to cut away from a character, and he knows just when to come back to a character; e) he doesn't fall into a pattern with his character cuts; he'll go away from a character and come right back to him again, then not return for many chapters.  In other words, it's not always A then B then C and then back to A again.  He cuts to and fro depending on what his story dictates.  I can tell you from personal bitter experience that all of this is not easy to do.  Agents and editors say not to write from too many POVs for a reason.  This may be the exception that proves the rule.

5.  The book is great even though the series follows it very, very closely, with only minor exceptions.  (And one or two major ones.)  But, again, no small feat, since I've seen the episodes and the episodes parallel the book very, very closely.

Anyway, even if you've seen the show, you should read this.  In fact, because you've seen the show, you should read this.

And I don't normally like these kinds of books.  World-building, sword-and-sorcery, knights and fair ladies, medieval stuff...not normally my thing.  Epics in general, especially fantasies, are not for me.  It took me over twenty years to read the three Lord of the Rings books.  I've never even tried to read any of the Harry Potter books (though I have them all).  I'm just too damned impatient for long books and long series.

But, as I mentioned, these may be the exception that proves the rule.

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