A Clash of Kings (1999) by George R.R. Martin is the second book in A Song of Ice and Fire series. I'm usually not a huge reader of epic fantasy tomes, but these books have received so much popular attention and acclaim that I was starting to feel left out. I enjoyed A Game of Thrones and was looking forward to the second novel. However, A Clash of Kings was more on the disappointing and frustrating side than the enjoyable side. I felt like I pushed through hundreds and hundreds of pages, and was rewarded with nothing. With the Stark family split up, the family dynamic that interested me most was gone.
Although I always looked forward to Arya and Sansa's stories while I was reading, I had to wade through detailed accounts of people I didn't know or didn't care about to get back to them. Descriptions of Bran's dreams bored me even in the first book, but there are even more of them in this latest novel. I also almost groaned aloud every time Martin inserted a long list of people who are and what their sigil looks like. My biggest problem looking back is that there was very little forward momentum with the characters I really cared about. Sure, wars were being fought and people were suffering everywhere, but everyone else was just treading water while the story was set up (presumably) for the next books.
Even with all my complaining, there were good moments in this novel. I've always found Arya's character and storyline compelling. And Martin almost tricked me with Bran--I thought that was well done. I also generally found Tyrion to be pretty interesting. Theon Greyjoy's betrayal was good, and his background and personality made it feel believable. However, that might have been maybe 100 pages of the 800--the rest I just had to force myself to read through:
DAENERYS TARGARYEN - one of the more interesting characters in the first book, I had to struggle through every chapter of hers in this one. Daenerys spent this novel wandering around the desert as her dragons grew. There is a scene where she explores a warlock house, sees some dreamlike scenes, and then defeats the warlocks? with her dragon? This storyline felt like filler to stall Daenerys from showing up in the Seven Kingdoms before Martin is ready for her.
SANSA STARK - I've been very concerned about Sansa Stark since her father was imprisoned for treason. Her personality and predicament make for a fascinating story. But what actually happened to Sansa in this book? She began the second novel as a prisoner of the Lannister family: she wants to escape and Joffrey treats her poorly. At the end of the book, Sansa is a prisoner of the Lannister family, she still wants to escape (maybe it's happening soon!), and Joffrey (now that he's no longer betrothed to her) can treat her even more poorly.
JON STARK - again, one of my favorite characters in the first novel, but he spends most of the second wandering around in the snow. At least there appears to be something of a good setup for him for the next novel.
CATELYN STARK - Catelyn seems to be more of a vehicle to tell other people's stories than to do much herself--except sometimes imprison and kill people rashly. I was moved by her grief when she learns of her sons' deaths, and appreciated her attempts to gain peace, but all she really did was wander around the countryside and sit at her father's bedside.
SER DAVOS SEAWORTH - a new character introduced to tell what is going on with Stannis Baratheon. Although I found Davos Seaworth himself eventually interesting, Melisandre or her powers were not grounded enough to make me believe or care about her. She felt more like a deus ex machina for Stannis and his battles.
When there is not much movement in the plot surrounding the characters you care about, enjoying the novel depends more upon enjoying the small details of the characters' lives. Unfortunately, this only worked for a small minority of the characters. The rest of the book was a bit of a chore to read. However, I am still frustratingly concerned about Arya and Sansa Stark, and vaguely interested in how the rest of the story will play out. I want to see the Stark family together again. Although I'm tempted to just get the plot from Wikipedia, I might dig back in--eventually--to discover the fate of my favorite characters.