This series just gets darker and darker. George R.R. Martin continues to show no compunction about killing off his characters. Of course, he's got about a million of them so there are plenty to spare!
The clash of the kings continues in this volume. The five contenders for power in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros wage their wars across the face of the land and no one is safe or secure.
Robb Stark still rules in the North and has not yet lost a battle.
The execrable Joffrey Lannister still sits on the Iron Throne most recently occupied by his putative father, Robert Baratheon.
Robert Baratheon's brother, Stannis, has been defeated and disgraced but still hangs on to his army and still plays the game of thrones. Meanwhile, Stannis' and Robert's other brother, Renly, is dead, possibly the victim of witchcraft.
And, across the sea, Daenerys of the House Targaryen, mistress of the only three dragons in the world, makes her way slowly westward, vowing to reclaim the Iron Throne that she considers rightfully hers.
In the north, beyond the Wall, Jon Snow is learning that keeping the vows of the Night Watch is not always an easy thing.
The remaining members of the Stark family still are scattered and, in some cases, unaware of the fate of each other. Arya is in the wild, on the run, sometimes a captive but always moving onward to...where? Sansa remains a hostage of the Lannisters in King's Landing and she will become even more tightly tied by marriage to that family. The Lannisters also are seeing changes in their fortunes. Tyrion serves as Hand of the King at the behest of his father, while Jaime is himself a hostage of war in Riverrun. Both Tyrion and Jaime show some unexpected depth and complexity of character in this entry and one wonders where that is leading.
The action and the momentum switch back and forth among these powerful families and who can say where it all will end?
Martin is a master of keeping the action moving and the suspense high and providing that shock that the reader least expects. This book was over 1100 pages long and yet it seemed all too brief to me. Which is why I will now be moving right along to A Feast for Crows, the next entry in this epic series.