Although A Clash of Kings, the second in George R. R. Martin’s epic series, has a multitude of unforgettable characters, none is more fascinating than the grotesquely disfigured Sandor Clegane. Shortly before the final attack on King’s Landing, a great city that is under siege by four separate armies, Sandor has a conversation with Sansa Stark, a captive who owes her life to Sandor. Stung by Clegane’s mockery and contempt, Sansa says, “Does it give you joy to scare people?” Sandor’s reply could well serve a grim revelation and a daunting insight into medieval warfare and the dark heart of humanity:
“No, it gives me joy to kill people ... Killing is the sweetest thing there is ... You think it is all taking favors from ladies and looking fine in gold plate? Knights are for killing.” He laid his long sword against her neck, just under her ear. Sansa could feel the sharpness of the steel. “I killed my first man at twelve. I’ve lost count of how many that I have killed since then. High lords with old names, fat rich people dressed in velvet, knights puffed up like bladders with their honors, yes, and women and children too – they are all meat and I’m the butcher. Let them have their lands and their gods and their gold.” Sandor Clegane spat at her feet to show what he thought of that. “So long as I have this,” he said, lifting the sword from her throat.
This singular speech by a brutal, psychopathic killer summarizes the basic theme of A Clash of Kings. In spite of its mesmerizing splendor, George R. R. Martin’s fanciful world is often cruel and blood-splattered. This second book in the Songs of Ice and Fire series contains an excess of carnage. Thousands die in sea battles, drowned or burned by wildfire (a kind of medieval napalm). Countless lords and nobles are beheaded and thousands more fall before axes, swords and crossbows. Occasionally, the author pauses to note that the nameless dead – the “little folk” in ravaged villages and farms – they all die without the glamor of armor or heraldry. The rape and slaughter of multitudes are merely a by-product of war ... the small or common folk die simply because they were “in the way” and they die without purpose of meaning.
Yet, this is a compelling tale and the multitudes of readers seem committed to following this amazingly varied cast to the final (Eighth) book.
Here is a general summary of Book Two: Ned Stark’s tragic death at the end of Book I changed the lives of his family, many of whom fled for their lives. Others such as Sansa, Ned’s daughter, are trapped in King’s Landing, a prisoner (and bride-to-be) of the vicious boy-king, Joffery Lannister. The 12-year-old Arya Stark escapes and becomes a hapless servant to a half-dozen masters, but dreams of returning to Winterfell and her family. Ironically, Winterfell has been invaded and the fate of her brothers and sisters is unknown. Catelyn Stark, the widowed Queen of Ned Stark, joins her 15-year-old son, Robb who has named himself “King of the North” and vowed to avenge his father’s death. However, as he marches on King’s Landing, his father’s old enemies invade the Stark kingdom of Winterfell.
A Clash of Kings has an abundance of villains. Queen Cersei, although openly denounced as “incestuous and heartless,” manages to retain control of King’s Landing while plotting to rescue her lover/brother, Jaime Lannister, currently imprisoned by Catelyn Stark. A host of self-serving court officials murder, maim and betray at will. There is an offensive eunuch called “the whisperer” for his talent in relaying dangerous gossip and a finance officer named Littlefinger who has an almost supernatural ability to assassinate and betray with impunity. Invariably, his intrigue leads to his promotion to a higher office.
The most maligned character in A Clash of Kings is Tyrion Lannister, the ugly dwarf who has been nick-named “The Imp.” Despised by everyone including his father and sister, Tyrion survives by his wits and frequently finds himself cast into hazardous situations ranging from riding with a murderous band of thieves to serving as the King’s Hand (the most powerful position in King’s Landing). However, by the end of Book 2, the Imp’s hopes are dashed again. An assassination attempt and a battle wound has rendered him disfigured and helpless and he has been imprisoned by his own family. What next?
The most mysterious figure in A Clash of Kings is Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons. The great battles raging in Westros are far removed from Daenerys’ “mission,” yet she believes that she is fated to reclaim her lost kingdom ... lost thousands of years ago, which is the Seven Kingdoms.
In an ancient time when dragons still ruled the skies, the Targaryen family ruled all of the known world. The heart of the Targaryen kingdom was the country recently ruled by Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark. Now, this “golden child” with a small band of devout followers is moving toward the coast of the Narrow Sea. Daenerys has a blind faith in the future. She will acquire ships and twenty thousand armed men, and they will accompany her to reclaim her lost kingdom. She will destroy “The Usurpers” and restore The House of Dragons. When Daenerys talks, people listen because she has something that attracts attention. She has three dragons. They are small, but they are growing larger every day.
Fledgling dragons are not the only bizarre creatures in A Clash of Kings. The world of the supernatural is growing stronger. A sorceress called “The Red Woman” appears in the court of Stannis Baratheon announcing a new religion – one that will sweep away all the gods, old and new. When Stannis accepts the Red Woman’s guidance and replaces his standards and flags with a new image: a heart within a radiant sun – a new destructive force is unleashed – a force that Stannis uses to destroy his enemies, including his own brother.
Finally, there is Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark, who has abandoned Winterfell and traveled north to join the Black Brothers: an army of dedicated warriors who keep watch on the Wall – a 600-foot high boundary that separates the land of mankind from the sinister forces of “the Others” which, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy, is beginning to move. With the coming of the Others, Jon and his comrades will fight what may be the “last battle.” Much of A Clash of Kings is filled with a sense of fatalism ... Winter is coming, a hundred-year-long winter that will change the world forever and render the dreams of the Starks, the Lannisters and even the Mother of Dragons meaningless.
Although this reviewer is tempted to continue reviewing Song of Ice and Fire through all eight books, he will not do so. It is time to return to more conventional literature ... works like Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home. Stay tuned.