Book two picks up right where Game of Thrones left off–Arya is on the run with the Night’s Watch, Sansa is held captive by child king Joffrey, Robb leads an army against the Lannisters, Bran holds down the fort at home, Jon has gone beyond the wall, Theon has returned home to take his rightful place as heir, Stannis and Renley are gathering their respective armies in order to claim the throne of the Seven Kingdoms for themselves, and Danny prepares her Dothraki forces. The book is as complicated as it sounds. Not that it is a bad thing. Part of the draw for this book is the utterly complex political situation set in the backdrop of a fantastical world where magic exists but is not in abundance (a rarity in fantasy).
One of the things that Martin does best with his characters and stories is the complexity of the story. Right and wrong is not nearly as obvious as other books tend to make it. Sure the Lannisters (minus Tyrion) are pretty awful, but for the most part, everyone has understandable if not honorable motives. In book one we saw Ned Stark struggle with honor and by remaining so rigid he end up losing his life and putting his children in trouble. Was that the right idea or should he have bent, at least a little, until he could better plan? Similar issues are grappled with in this book: Should Robb bend to the Lannisters to save his sisters? Should Theon be more loyal to the Starks who raised him despite being held essentially captive or should he attempt to reclaim his place with his true family? Should you stay aligned to a lord or a family member when you don’t believe in the methods they employ?
Arya is still one of my favorites, for her strength and ingenuity. Even Sansa is growing on me, though despite all that’s going on she somehow clings to her romantic ideals which gets a little frustrating. It felt like we could have gone deeper into Theon’s internal struggle, which is more complex than perhaps any other character’s in the book. The one character I really cared nothing for was Davos who seemed like a random character used more for plot device than because we were supposed to connect or care about him in any way.
Though it felt like some of the plot was rushed (dealing with Renly in particular seemed to come and go so quickly it was hardly worth having him involved in the first place), it was generally full of well-paced action. Not quite as many shocks as book one, but still an enjoyable read.