A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
As I said while discussing A Game of Thrones, I love this series, and it is interesting rereading them, and seeing how well I remembered the novels. While A Game of Thrones had some very defining events in the novel, in comparison, I couldn't quite remember how far this novel went within the series. While there are very important things that occur, I found myself waiting for things that are obviously going to happen in later novels. If A Game of Thrones documents the different events that set the action in motion, this novel deals with the aftereffects. As a result, I guess it is understandable why the following three novels would blend together for me in certain ways, though I'm not saying that this novel is weaker in anyway.
As the novel begins, the realm is split after Robert's death. Both his brothers and his son have declared themselves heirs to the kingdom, and Rob of Winterfell and his followers have declared him King of the North, opting to once again be an independent kingdom. The men of the Wall are on a reconnaissance to the north to find out what has been going on up there with both the wildlings (men that don't want to fall under the rule of any man) and were the blights are coming from (the walking dead). Dani is trying to put together an army and power base to take the throne that is rightfully hers, while dealing with desertion of most of her dead husband's former men and the weakened position she is currently in. Her three dragons are fortunately a draw for powerful men, but still too young and weak to be of military use, and most of these men are more interested in gaining a dragon than helping Dani.
With the realm torn apart by civil war, the roads have becoming very dangerous, and different people take advantage of the chaos and confusion to gain power while the nobles battle it out amongst themselves. By the end of the novel, more men have risen to claim power for themselves while other contenders for the the throne have been taken out of the equation. One of my favorite new characters was Davos, a devoted follower of Stannis, the elder of Robert's remaining brothers who watches his master choose a path he can't agree with but has no choice but to follow.
For the most part, there is no such thing as black and white in these novels. There are of course one or two characters that seem to be just bad (Joffrey being one of them), but for the most part, even the villains are portrayed in a way that is complex, and even if they aren't sympathetic, they can be understood.