A Clash of Kings is a second installment which, while not as wham-heavy as the first or third books, is an excellent read that brings Westeros to life so vividly you can smell the death.
Parts that are awesome:
TYRION: The Imp gets a promotion and plays with fire.
ARYA: Covered in dirt, hounded by soldiers and far from home. Unlike Bran or Sansa, Arya has an active role in the plot and a use for that knife of hers.
VARYS: The master spy gets some sympathy and shows some serious balls.
STANNIS: The closest person to a big bad. His most endearing quality is that he's a rule-abiding, pyre-lighting dick-head yet he's hardly a monster.
DAVOS: Probably the only person with his head screwed on straight. Granted he doesn't call many shots until the next book but it's nice to have a decent sane man every once in a while.
In regards to the pace it's quite slow in the first half. There are five or so threads that don't mix but do reflect on one another. New characters are introduced and existing ones are fleshed out. Some plots walk slowly in yards while others run in miles. In terms of action the story doesn't really lift off until a certain person bites the dust/meets the Stranger midway, and after that it's one awesome moment after the next.
Having great characters, war, intrigue, grief, wonder, horror, wights, dragons, midget sex and a bittersweet ending, A Clash of Kings is an excellent installment well worth the 10.99 (Unless you're French and have to buy it in three volumes,in which case learn Hungarian).