I loved the first book (maybe even an A+) but was disappointed in this one because of some of the things that pleased me in the first. Primarily the way that he lets awful things sometimes happen to good characters he’s developed (like disability or death) - you really didn’t know what was going to happen. He also was developing some very interesting deeper structures outside the basic warring noble families. The second novel keeps that going, but it seems like at times he’s just casting dice to decide on plot lines. It may be he (rightly) feels his world and characters are robust enough to cope with such haphazard treatment, and that it reflects the context of the massive uncertainty of a civil war - but some sort of direction is enjoyable in a novel. The larger things are still there (the mysterious atrocities rising beyond the wall; the return of magic with Danerys and her dragons), but there’s not much of a sense of a deadline with them.
In one way this may be good - you can just enjoy the interaction of substantial characters in a coherent fantasy world without it being forced into a typical exposition-rising tension-climax-dénouement structure. But I didn’t enjoy it as much because the first did always seem to be more clearly going somewhere. Furthermore, while this is recounting the descent into treacherous conflict, the sheer volume and ubiquity of sickeningly brutal murder, molestation and mutilation of innocents is a bit overwhelming. George, are you just getting a little too much pleasure out of all this? I mean, it’s your world and your narrative - you don’t have to linger quite so long or often over these accounts. Or you could even pick things up a little!
I hope he doesn’t go too Orson Scott Card, but there are getting to be a few too many world/era changing characters. The only one I’ve seen get away with this is Saberhagen in his Swords series. Each of a dozen God-forged swords are world shakers, and each book resolves itself, but the swords pop up here and there, interacting in novel ways, and could keep doing so indefinitely.