I feel like any review that I could possibly write wouldn't do justice to the mammoth and epic read that "A Game of Thrones" turned out to be. This is just my review for the first book and no major spoilers or plot details here, just a general overview of my experience. That might be a format I do for the reviews of the remaining books in this series - just depends on what details I want to expand upon as I move forward with it.
I'm no stranger to reading books that are upwards of 600 pages, many of which land squarely in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. (I can read a 250 page book in an hour and a half if no one interrupts me and if I'm particularly motivated to finish it rather than savor the experience, the latter of which I certainly did for this book.) Even still, it took me a while to muscle through, and I knew that I'd have to be in the right mindset to tackle it. I took about a week to read this continuously despite starting and stopping the book in 2011 and 2013 because I had to keep returning it to the library - so I ended up buying it as well as the other books in the series. I'd actually read a good portion of this book before then, just never had the chance to read to review it until now. My introduction to A Song of Ice and Fire actually was back in 2004 when I was in undergrad uni and reading the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Jordan - probably because I was on a fantasy reading kick around that time. I wish I'd had the chance to read more back then, but I'm glad to have the chance to return to it.
This year and particular time (2016), I was on a epic bookhopping trip and my mind couldn't focus on one read. Somehow, I ended up getting all of my reading time sucked up in the world and characterizations within this book after I found my flow with it.
This book is full of complex and complicated characters, with their own histories, priorities, ambitions, flaws, among other qualities within their respective houses and the events that end up coming to a head towards the end of the novel. Martin weaves a personal narrative with eight POV characters that shift viewpoints at several turns in a battle heavy, politically askew world on the brink of war, especially in the mix of a king's unexpected death and the forthcoming shift of power. Perspective jumping and making sure that each character has their own distinct identity and vetted voice is hard to do in and of itself - so how Martin managed to seamlessly present these different characters (with some degrees of overlap for events) in such a streamline in just one book is really impressive, especially for the scope of the story. The attention to detail - the clothing, the food, the battle scenes, the emotions of the characters, the losses - all of these really hit home with me through the read. I'm in awe, for the most part, of Martin's writing and skill at bringing these images to my mind, while also giving me things to think about through the read and more than a few potent quotables to bring a smile to my face (I'm looking at you, Tyrion).
I'm trying to dance around spoilers for this book and it's hard to reflect upon it when you feel like so much happens within it that you can only talk so much about it without making your own review uber long (Uhh...never mind, I plead the fifth on my reviews for their respective lengths at times). I usually say that my favorite books are the ones that completely immerse me in the world that it builds, invests me in the plight of the characters within (even if I may not like them or the things that they do), make me feel a range of emotions, and leave me with much to think about in the mix of my reading experience. I did all that and then some with my experience reading this. It's a read that I know I'll remember for a long time to come.
Now I'm sitting here thinking that I want to read more for what happens to these respective characters - i.e. I'm going through serious book withdrawal and it's likely I'm going to pick up the next book right after this one. My biggest issue with "A Game of Thrones" in retrospect (technically) was that it was hard not to feel like the narrative sagged in some spells because the conflicts weren't always as clear or to the forefront as they could've been. It's a trade-off, because Martin describes details well and paints the realm and experiences of his characters with a colorful brush, but at the same time, I could tell certain POV points (Deny's POV in particular at times) felt like they didn't tie in as well with the primary storyline and it took quite a while to get to some of the places where the book hit the ground running. It still held my curiosity and intrigue, but it still affected me enough to where moving through it was a challenge. Thus, I'd give it 4 stars instead of 4.5 or even putting it at a 5 star read. But for the overarching experience? I really enjoyed what it had to offer, and I can't wait to continue reading to see how it all pans out down the line.
If you can check out the audio narration by Roy Doltrice, please do so - he does the voices of the characters very, very well. Though be warned that the audiobook is over 30 hours long (and yeah, I listened to parts of it on audio - courtesy of my library when I was on the go in commutes to work, then picking up the physical narrative I'd bought when I came home in the evenings.)
Overall score: 4/5 stars.