A Clash of Kings
by George R. R. Martin
This second novel follows hard upon A Game of Thrones. Like the first book, it is sprawling, long, exciting, and inconclusive. I think we all know how this unfinished series will finish, but it’s fun to see how we get there, and Martin has a knack for drawing interesting characters, especially interesting villains. The plotting here is elaborate and shaggy, with numerous plot lines that will pay off in future volumes, if indeed they are not merely diversions.
What place and period does Martin have in mind as his setting? We are, of course, in faerie: dragons are real, magic is a recent memory, and seasons span many years. The castles seem to be late medieval, and the armaments (of which we hear a lot) are roughly 15th century. The society, on the other hand, seems much earlier and much simpler, and the federation of numerous small kingdoms that are occasionally united by a strong king of kings sounds a lot like our new understanding of the 4th century German tribes. The religious undertones of the struggle, where it seems we have Celtic, Norse, and Christian pantheons in play, also suggests a setting in, say, the sixth century.