King Robert is dead. Lord Eddard Stark's head has parted with his shoulders, and the realm is plunged into chaos. Four kings vie for power, and war has taken the land by storm. Both of Robert's brothers, Stannis and Renly, have rallied armies around them. Robb Stark has declared himself King in the North, and seeks Lannister blood in reparation for his father's death.
Stannis has forsaken the religion of the Seven Kingdoms, and follows the Lord of Light, and a mysterious sorceress named Melisandre. Although his army is far smaller than Renly's or Lannister's, Stannis is convinced that as the elder brother he is the rightful heir to the throne, and will allow nothing to stop him.
Beloved King Renly has begun his march towards King's Landing, where Joffrey holds power in the name of the Lannisters. Fate has conspired to pit brother against brother, and only one will leave the field alive to take the throne.
In the Riverlands, King Robb has pushed south, sweeping Lannister armies aside. Yet, his victories can only be temporary. Lord Tywin Lannister himself commands the largest army, and soon enough Robb must face him, if he means to call himself King.
King Joffrey, Cersei's incestuous son, rules in King's Landing, with the full might of the Lannisters behind him. He is young, and cruel, as Sansa Stark has cause to learn. Lord Eddard's youngest daughter, she is held hostage at court, with no friends, and enemies at every turn.
Yet another King seeks power, as Balon Greyjoy has marshaled the power of the Iron Islands. Theon Greyjoy, long Lord Stark's hostage, has returned home to find everything has changed. He must prove himself to his father and his sister, and will bring war to the Northlands while King Robb fights in the riverlands.
Daenarys Targaryen, or Daenarys Stormborn, still searches for power across the sea. The Dragons have been reborn to her, and she, along with her small band of faithful followers and Ser Jorah Mormont seeks an army to reclaim the Seven Kingdoms, and rule as her father did a generation before.
Finally, the frozen lands stir, yet the kingdoms are embroiled in civil war, and are oblivious to a threat far greater than any rebel lord. Only the Night's Watch remembers, yet their words fall on deaf ears. Finally, Lord Commander Mormont (father to the disgraced Ser Jorah) leads his men in force north of the tower, into the frozen lands in search of the lost Benjen Stark, and the King Beyond the Wall.
True to his style, Martin keeps A Clash of Kings rolling strong. The book has some excellent twists to it, just as 'A Game of Thrones' had some choice surprises. We're constantly surprised with Martin's willingness to kill of characters. It's a welcome change to knowing that our band of heroes will still be here come the end of the book.In particular, we're left with a nail-biting cliffhanger, concerning the infamous Jamie Lannister.
Another integral part of the book is Martin's careful further exploration of the strong characterization begun in the first novel.We're given insights into characters, which often times allows us to understand their actions.
We cannot help but pity Ser Jorah Mormont, brought low and finally betrayed by love. Slandered in the Kingdoms, he has proven himself faithful to Daenarys time and time again, and has come to lover her in his own way.
Sandor Clegane, the Hound, Joffrey's brutal knight, is hated throughout the realm. Yet once again, there is a humanity to him, as he is strangely kind to Sansa, and has a horrible fear of fire, which scarred him for life.
It's a refreshing change to see things painted grey, instead of black and white. It's not just the good guys and the bad guys anymore. Eddard Stark fathered a bastard, and his misguided sense of duty cost him his life, and the realm it's peace. Tyrion Lannister, an enemy, yet strangely kind, and humorous. The novel also explores the characters of Catelyn Stark, Jamie and Cersei Lannister, and others, and we learn that the good have done their share of bad, and even the bad might have some measure of good.
All in all, 'A Clash of Kings' is an awe-inspiring book, and deserves attention from even the most casual of fantasy fans.