A Clash of Kings, by George R. R. Martin

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In this immersive second novel, the kingdom is unraveling, with multiple claimants to the Iron Throne, and war destroying high- and low-born alike. Again, Martin spares his characters nothing.

The depth of this book is remarkable. Martin’s multiple points of view take us across the kingdom; the collective story is utterly absorbing and the world-building is extraordinary. It is also exceptionally oppressive in tone, with rape and murder, death and betrayal around every corner. The collective impact of it left me exhausted and grateful for a brief reprieve before I wade into book three.

Knowing the darkness of these books, I held off on reading them for a long time; this is not high fantasy (as the young princess character and I like to imagine), but low fantasy, filled with piss and blood and filth. But there are many rewards: the political intrigue and backbiting, the chance to disappear into fully realized characters, and the discovery of a fantasy world that will always live in some corner of my mind.

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