Well, it only took about two weeks and a thousand pages of reading, but I’ve finally finished the second book in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, 1998’s A Clash of Kings. With a story that spanned continents, encompassed hundreds of named and important characters, and featured more scheming, plotting, and battling than the War of the Roses (which I feel is a major influence on the novel), A Clash of Kings served up a sequel to A Game of Thrones that was as necessarily epic as one would expect. While I may not place this one in the same deified spot as the original book, it still proved addicting enough to keep me coming back from more, staying up til 7 in the morning reading cause I couldn’t put it down, and insatiably hungry to jump into book number 3, A Storm of Swords.

A Clash of Kings picks up shortly after the end of A Game of Thrones. With the murders of both Ned Stark and the king, Robert Baratheon, young Joffrey, product of the incestual relationship between Queen Cersei and her twin Jaime Lannister, sits upon the Iron Throne, while his uncle Tyrion serves as the new Hand of the King. Despite his claim to the throne as Robert’s heir, two others have staked up claims to be the new King of the Seven Kingdom’s, Robert’s two brothers, Renly and Stannis. Robb Stark has also been deemed by his people to be King of the North and has broken all fealty to the Iron Throne. Across the Narrow Sea, Daenarys Targaryen mourns the loss of her husband Khal Drogo while celebrating the birth of her three dragon and is ferried to a mysterious kingdom known as Qarth where all would see the Mother of Dragons but nothing is as it seems. At the Wall, the brothers of the Night’s Watch strike north in search of Jon Snow’s missing uncle and to prepare for war against the barbaric wildlings. The Stark children are spread far and wide. Sansa is a hostage of the Lannister’s at King’s Landing, Arya travels in hiding as an orphan boy hoping to get back to Winterfell, while Bran rules Winterfell while brother Robb wages war against the Lannisters and defends his homeland.

The book clocks in at nearly 1000 pages (969 to be precise, not counting the appendices), and with the exception of Martin’s tendency to go into Tolkien-esque (and by that I mean excessive) ramblings about the myriad details of the world that the characters possess, I never felt like any of that space was wasted or filler. Page after page, he simply delivers one of the darkest (at times depressing) and mesmerizing fantasy tales of all time. While my head began to spin trying to keep track of the book’s ridiculously large cast (this is coming from someone who has no problem following The Wire), as long as I understood each character’s motivations, ambitions, flaws, and strengths, I couldn’t help but to continue reading the book. I have become so emotionally invested in the point-of-view characters from the series, that I feel each and every one of their triumphs and tragedies as one of my own, and since Martin puts the Stark brood through more hell than kids in an Orson Scott Card novel, it’s an emotionally grueling journey, and if you thought that Martin wouldn’t be able to surprise you anymore with where he takes these characters, you would be so very wrong.

If there’s anything about the second book that keeps it from being quite the masterpiece that the first one was, it’s that I almost felt like Martin was afraid to take quite as many risks in this book. By the end of A Game of Thrones, several main characters and a healthy chunk of the supporting cast are dead. Ned Stark’s death, while tragic and sad, was an emotional high point of the first book, and it showed you that Martin was not playing with kid’s gloves. There was never a death of that magnitude in the second book, and I was sort of disappointed by that. I’m not saying I want Jon or Arya or Tyrion to die. That would really piss me off, but if Martin does something like that, and he does it well, the books are better for it.

Before I go to bed tonight, I imagine that I will have read at least 100 pages of A Storm of Swords. I am incredibly thankful that I started reading the series now and that I haven’t had to wait nearly a decade between books like his more veteran fans have had to between A Feast for Crows and the soon to be released A Dance With Dragons. By the time that I finish book number 4, A Dance With Dragons should be released within a month or so, and I will be eagerly awaiting it more than any new release for a book since the last Harry Potter book.

Winter is coming.

Final Score: A-