This book boasts that it's "The Fantasy Novel of the Year" in bright red letters on the cover, and the tale, for once, lives up to that boast. Martin delivers a gripping story of power plays, court intrigue and treachery.
This complex tale weaves elements of fantasy, mystery and suspense into a novel that will keep you reading well into the night.
The world of Martin's novel is intriguing in itself. It's a place where summer can last for decades, and winter lasts longer. As the novel opens winter is coming, and with it darkness. But at this point, that's the least the characters have to worry about. Plots to murder and take over the throne of the seven kingdoms abound, taking up most of the characters' thoughts in this first book.
Martin switches back and forth between several key characters, often leaving the characters in a precarious situation for several chapters before returning to them. Normally, a writer who used that technique to build suspense would annoy me, but for some reason, it works for Martin. Probably because there simply is so much going on. This novel is 800 pages long without a dull moment - that's difficult to do.
Another thing I like about this book is the gray area. Everyone on the "good" side is not likeable, and everyone on the "bad" side is not despicable. For example, I absolutely loathed Sansa Stark, who is obviously on the "good" side. I called her the "prissy bitch" for most of the book, and wished her sister Arya would give her a sound thrashing. On the other hand, I found I often liked Tyrion Lannister, obviously one of the "bad" guys.
The only real complaint I have with this book is that not all of the story lines were wrapped up well. Some of the stories lacked closure. I realize Martin is planning a several book series here, but still there should be a little closure. For example, one character is left dangling with a knife at her throat. That's OK for a couple of chapters, but for a year or more until the next volume it's a bit annoying.
Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. I don't know if I'm ready to call it the "Fantasy Novel of the Year", but I'll definitely say that, in my opinion, it's one of the top two or three.