On my latest foray to buy some new fantasy, the till assistant suggested that I might like to try George R. R. Martin. I had seen his books before, but had never committed to reading them, but on this recommendation, I picked this book up for my summer holiday. Over 800 pages and less than 5 days later it was finished.
Although somewhat slow in starting, the storylines soon become engaging and you really do want to find out what happens next. The book also contains a large number of surprises and means that you're never really certain where each story will lead.
For me, the biggest surprise was in the unusual structure. As has been mentioned, each chapter is named after the character whose view it is written from. This is not something I have encountered before, but I enjoyed the format. It gave a nice insight into characters from all "sides" and allowed a good deal of depth to be included for them.
The book as a whole is almost three independent stories. Firstly, the "Game of Thrones" is the nickname of the power struggle between high-born families to influence or take the throne. As usual, we have the good (Starks, Tullys), the bad (Lannisters) and the undecided (Baratheon). This covers the majority of the book and has only an initial interaction to one of the other storylines,
The second storyline has minimal interaction with the first and follows a sworn brotherhood that forego all previous ties and become a new "family". They are sworn to defend the kingdom and man the vast wall that separates it from the wilds to the North.
The final storyline does not interact with the others and is only hinted at by the telling of rumours in the kingdom. It charts the progress of the barbarian race of the Dothraki and their uneasy alliance with the last of the Targaryens, the family that were all but destroyed in a battle with the current head of the kingdom.
As in most fantasy, there are apparent good and evil sides, but most of the characters have a certain ambiguity which results in them doing something that you would not normally expect. This ambiguity is a neat way to make you connect with characters from both sides in a way that you wouldn't usually do and although it may be a little uncomfortable, it also provides a better immersion for the reader.
Another surprise is that magic is scarcely involved. It is only hinted at in the first two storylines and is only fully in evidence at the end of the third; I suspect that this will become more prominent in the following books.
Non-human creatures are also in short supply, but again, I believe that they will play a larger part as the series progresses.
To close, I would like to mention that there are a couple of plot twists that left me open-mouthed, a fact that I found most satisfying (after I'd recovered:-). Also, there are a couple of particularly grisly deaths and this combined with some of the more mature language and themes, indicate that this has been targeted at an adult audience.
I have tried to avoid any plot details since the impact of the book comes from not knowing what is going to happen next. it has introduced all the storylines and got them to a point where they are all about to explode into action. If you fancy something a little more complex and with a definite adult bias, this could very well be the book for you.