What makes "A Song of Ice and Fire" so compelling in part is the author's refusal to shy away from the distasteful and brutal realities of the world he has created, a world that in many ways closely resembles our Europe of the Middle Ages. Royal families dedicated to incest, sycophants and scheming courtiers, appalling abuses of physical and governing power, ugly and wholly frightening scenes of battle and war; George R.R. Martin doesn't skirt discreetly around the issues or images. But what really makes this series-in-progress succeed is its treatment of loyalty and honor, values made real by the characters peopling the plot, characters who make the story more than just a series of events. A Clash of Kings pulls us into a fascinating world of myth and man more wondrous than almost anywhere else on the fantasy map.