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Well, I have officially finished the second book in George R. R. Martin’s epic Song of Fire and Ice series.  It took a few Polar Vortex days to do, but I was successful.  And overall, I must say A Clash of Kings is an impressive second entry into the series.

I won’t spend much time on the plot so as to not spoil anything for those of you who have not read it.  Suffice it to say, winter is, in fact, coming and coming quickly, along with a war of epic proportions.  Some characters did not survive the first book and so no longer narrate chapters, while other existing characters, like Theon Greyjoy, along with new characters, like Davos Seaworth, take on storytelling duties for the first time.  A few new major players of note:  Lord Renly Baratheon plays a much larger role, and we meet Lord Stannis Baratheon, the third Baratheon brother, for this first time.  Jaime Lannister is mostly spoken of for most of the book, as is Robb Stark in the second half of the book.  Jon Snow’s adventures take us north of the Wall in preparation for battle against Mance Rayder’s wildlings, and Daenerys struggles to find away across the sea to take back her rightful throne.

Honestly, the book was slow going at first.  I got bogged down for about a week between pages 300 and 400, and my motivation to keep going was low.  I was afraid the book was suffering from sequel-itis, where the second installment simply isn’t as good as the first.  However,  if you can push through to page 400, you will be highly rewarded.  The pace picks up significantly, and Martin’s prose is thrilling, especially in the last 200 pages.  I woke up this morning with about 150 pages left and soon realized that I would be finishing the book today.  I simply could not put it down.  And honestly, I would much rather a second installment, or any book for that matter, start slowly and evolve into a page turner rather than the other way around.  Then it’s a series that I look forward to continuing.

As always, Martin’s talent for creating fully realized, distinct voices in his narrators shines through.  Jon Snow continues to be one of the most engaging story lines for me, but Arya is rapidly emerging as one of my new favorite characters.  Sansa has gained dimension, and I no longer hate her as I did in the first book.  Bran may be the most masterful voice of the book, however, as Martin has to balance (and does so impressively) Bran’s young age (8) with his new position as Lord of Winterfell while his mother and brother are away.

Additionally in this book, I feel that his patchwork approach to telling the story from various points of view has gained sophistication and naturalness.  He knows what the final puzzle looks like and is stealthily revealing it to us, not entirely directly, with each piece he smoothly fits in place.  It truly is a joy to see the interweaving story lines grow as Martin’s literary world evolves.

That being said, I will be taking a break from the intrigues and battles of Westeros for a bit.  As it did last time, I’m sure the world will linger with me for a while.  However, there is a little bit of exhaustion that comes with reading A Clash of Kings, perhaps reflective of the pain and exhaustion of many of the characters at the books end.  So I will put Westeros away for awhile, read other stories set in other worlds, and look forward to re-entering the world of the Starks and Lannisters in the near future.

P.S.  I have not seen the TV show yet.  I plan to, but as of now I cannot comment on how well it stacks up next to the book.  So…don’t spoil it for me, please!