My problems with A CLASH OF KINGS are the exact same problems I had with GAME OF THRONES, except more so. The book is a lot longer, and yet a lot less happens. Yes, there's scheming and Machiavellian (Lannisterian?) politics going on, and there are some battles, but nothing happens. The plot stonewalls as everyone - everyone - schemes, all the while telling us about their incredible schemes in mind-numbing detail. For example, let's look at Sansa's story arc. You'll remember that in book one, she was a spoiled little sh*t who wanted to twirl around in the flowers and listen to poetry all day, i.e. marry Joffrey, and she pretty much sold out her family to do this. Now, Sansa realizes that this was a mistake, and she doesn't want to marry Joffrey any more. Her whole story line is how much she doesn't want to marry Joffrey, and how much she fears Cersei, and how desperate she is to escape. Misery, misery, misery, with no resolution of any kind on sight until the very end, and even then it's open-ended, with hints of even more misery on the horizon. I almost felt sorry for her by that point, and she's one of my least favorite characters in this book.
As for the characters I don't like: Arya continues to be a Tamora Pierce reject, although her escape is a pretty great scene. She has potential. I want to like Arya, but she's so freaking annoying. She reminds me of those "plucky" bodice ripper heroines who feel the need to assert how they are good as any man to anyone who will listen (i.e. no one). Jagen H'ghar was cool, though. Catelyn is still on my sh*t list. I'm not sure how I feel about Brienne - in my head, she's "grown-up Arya." They're pretty much the same character. Jon was more boring in this book. He's in the woods, okay, I get it, the woods are cold and dangerous. There's not much mention of the evil creatures in this book, whereas in the first book they were a very real and looming threat that was quite frightening. Theon is probably one of my new least favorite characters of the love-to-hate variety. Honestly, Joffrey amuses me, because he's such a spoiled brat...exactly what you'd expect to see if you put a rich, spiteful preteen on the throne. Yes, that's right GoT fans, I think Theon is worse than Joffrey. Bran is still boring AF. I'm not sure Martin is capable of redeeming his story arc for me - he's so boring.
And the characters I do like: Davos. He's a new addition, and a member of Stannis's court. I'm not quite sure what his role is. Advisor? Whatever he is, I like him. He's torn between the old and the new, and between his loyalty to his king and his desire to do right. He kind of reminds me of Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed by King Henry II. Beckett became more devoted to his job than to his king, which led to a falling out and, eventually, a huge conflict. I can see Davos encountering a similar conflict down the road, especially with Melisandre running interference. (I was bummed that we didn't get to see more of her in this book; she was so cool in the prologue.) You all already know that I love Daenerys. Her narratives are few and far between, but she does the most exciting this in this book, traveling to exotic, far-off lands in her quest to draw up an army large enough to challenge and defeat Westeros and regain her lost legacy, involving sinister marriage proposals, magical trials, and assassination attempts. Tyrion is also an amazing character - he's so clever. And witty. And unapologetic. He gets how life works and tries to spin that to his advantage. You know he's not exactly a good guy, but he's human enough at least, human enough to root for him in any case. Finally, Cersei. Cersei is probably one of the strongest women in this book. She will do anything to come out as number one. And drunk Cersei is 100% about that salty life. You don't know shade until you've dined at Casa Lanister and had the (poisoned) tea spilled, that's what's up.
The problem is that my favorite narrators are the least frequent (with the exception of Tyrion) & the boring characters bog up the story line. I appreciate the world building, but I don't really need long blocky paragraphs describing all the characters' armor, the food they're eating, how they're eating it, all their titles and the names they enjoy being called, police sketch-artist-level descriptions of their appearances, and what their favorite color is on a Tuesday afternoon. Plus, a lot of the characters who Martin introduced in this book, who made me sit up and go, "Oh! That person would make a great villain!" or "Oh! That person seems like someone I could really root for" die. That's right. A CLASH OF KINGS is the book in which Martin introduces new characters for the sole purpose of making them cannon fodder. You could just as well call this REDSHIRTS (oh wait, that book exists already).
I'm still going to read the sequel because I want to know more about Melisandre, and what happens to poor Tyrion, and of course, see the infamous Red Wedding (which trusted sources have assured me happens midway through A STORM OF SWORDS, but I think I'll take a break first.
2.5 out of 5 stars.