I have finally, FINALLY managed to get ahead of the HBO series (which I can't help but watch the minute it's released). Like A Game of Thrones, I don't really feel like I can 'review' this book - reading it for the first time while simultaneously watching the series means I can't make a fair judgement. Instead, a few brief (or not so brief) thoughts.
I found that I am drawn to some characters a lot more than others. When it came time to hear from Tyrion, Catelyn, Sansa and Arya I thought 'Yay!' but when it came to Theon or Jon it was more like 'Le Sigh ...". Daenerys I was a little undecided on (after her being my favourite in GoT - after all, in this book she just hangs out in Qarth). Bran was incredibly frustrating because I got the feeling that the large amount of foreshadowing would not bear fruit until somewhere near book five. I get the feeling George is a fan of doing this.
I really couldn't give two hoots about Theon and Jon's story was just a lot of snow and promises of scary things in the not so near future. I'm sure the stuff beyond the wall will get there eventually. I hope.
Constantly switching perspectives did become a little annoying in this book. I felt that it took me almost the whole chapter to re-warm myself to each character and then we are swiftly whisked off to someone new (and if it was Theon on Jon then I was none too impressed). While I think the changing perspectives are great, keep things fresh and are very clever in their delivery, it does tend to break up the story and leave my engagement as a reader a little stilted. Plus, sometimes it feels like I am reading three completely different stories (the war between the Kings, the happenings north of the wall, and the tale of Daenerys). I am looking forward to them eventually becoming more intertwined.
Best character award goes to both Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark. For me Cersei was reminiscent of some of Ian Irvine's very Darwinian characters - demonstrating that well written villains are not simply 'evil', but have a cause of their own. Yes Cersei is a total bitch, but Martin gives some great insights into her character, including the love of her children as a key driver. Catelyn (and Tyrion as well) had the most distinctive narration and the sheer amount of unfortunate events that befall her are staggering. Shit really goes down for the Starks, which I'm sure we all love to hate and hate to love.
Martin's ability to kill of key characters suddenly, while not as severe as that of Stephen Deas, keeps the story dramatic and unpredictable. When a certain Lord is viciously slain in the beginning of one HBO episode I nearly fell off the couch (he was totally one of my favourite characters too -- waah!) although the book version then wasn't quite so shocking.
Events in this season started straying a lot further from the book that in season one - obviously in an attempt to avoid introducing unnecessary characters. The series introduced a whole romance involving Robb which I assume will pop up in the next book? I feel A Clash of Kings neglected him a little.
Next up I'll be taking a little break from the series to read Bitterblue. I'll be physically reading the book itself, which should be interesting after using the Kindle for the last two months.