A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin ★★★★ (Load of triggers on this one)
A Clash of Kings is the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, which really needs to be read in order. If you haven’t already read the first book, my review is here.
A Clash of Kings builds upon the first book – the events from the first continue to play out, winter draws closer, and magic begins to return to the world with the birth of Daenerys’s dragons.
I’m still largely unsatisfied with the world building. The only setting that really breaths for me is the wall and the wild beyond it, the only setting which captivates me and gives me a sense of wonder. Most of the other settings could be the standard fantasy cities or castles found in most books. Yes, they may have a few different elements – the iron throne, the dragon skulls, but for the most part, they don’t feel like anything new.
The religions were filled in a bit more, with some farther information given about the new and old gods, plus this other religion that worships the “Lord of Light.” It was intresting to finally find out more, but unfortunately, both the new gods and the other religion have troubling gender implications. The new gods are comprised of the Stranger, Father, Smith, Warrior, Mother, Maiden, and Crone. I get the feeling that Martin’s trying to be arch typical, but it’s defining women based on their bodies and age.
Melisandre, a priestess of the “Lord of Light” is even more troubling. She’s clearly evil, which wouldn’t be a problem but that her wickedness is repeatedly associated with her being female. She’s beautiful, wears all red, is speculated to control men through her sexual charms, and is all in all the classic “evil seductress.” Not only that, but she works her horrible magic using her vagina. I’m not even kidding here -(SPOILER) she literally gives birth to a shadow monster in a deeply described scene. I can’t help but wonder how a male sorcerer would work this spell. Would he poop it out? (END SPOILER)
Song of Ice and Fire is set in a clearly sexist world, and if anything, the descriptions and threats of rape have increased since the last book. In context, rape serves only as a tool for Martin to show how brutal and unromantic his world is. The trauma and effects upon the victims are never explored, and the victims themselves don’t tend to receive sympathy. In particular, I’m thinking of a character who was gang raped by at least fifty men (and subsequently becomes pregnant). The other characters, even the female characters, scorn her and sometimes even appear disgusted by her.
Yes, there are strong female characters. Yes, there are four female POV characters. But Song of Ice and Fire is not without flaws. I understand that Martin is trying to deconstruct the romanticizing of chivalry, knights, and medieval era fantasy. However, I think it could have been done more tastefully.
As with the previous book, the pacing worked really well and the book was gripping. Near the end, I did grow weary of the grit and sexism and found myself putting it down more.
I still liked the book, and I will read the next one. But I’m hesitate to issue a blanket recommendation – if you read Song of Ice and Fire, you’ll need to have a strong tolerance levels for all types of violence, sexual and otherwise. If you were disturbed by the first book, you may want to quit now, because I found the second worse in this respect.