"Winter is coming."
The Good: The Starks are lords of the north in the Seven Kingdoms and are unaware of the danger threatening their family. The current monarch, bloated and inept, is blind to the treachery and corruption surrounding the court and the Lannisters, his wife's family. Across the sea the heirs of the ousted monarch plan their revenge. Beyond the Wall, a defence against dark creatures from the north, something is stirring. Winter is coming.
Martin's writing follows the same vein as Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series but in a more concise manner. His descriptions could stand to be Hemingway-ed but overall they're effective and serve to illustrate various character's traits. This is due to the form of the story. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the main characters. This refreshing technique allows the reader to see different events from various angles and to see who's lying, who has something to hide.
He also manages to communicate his time period through diction as none of his characters use contractions. This gives the dialogue and description a more archaic feel.
Another impressive aspect of Martin's writing is the plot. Through the character chapters we are able to follow several stories, all of which intertwine. The genre Martin writes in is easily classified as Sword and Sorcery but with this series, "A Song of Ice and Fire", he leans heavily on the Sword aspect. This was a relief as I often find too many fantasy novels use the sorcery side as a deus ex machina to get out of situations. Martin's story is about people and their problems; it's gritty and realistic, like sand in the teeth. There are deep mythological and religious roots in this story and the reader is given occasional tidbits that round out the world.
As well, you can never predict what's going to happen next and certain rules that apply in other fantasy novels don't apply here. Everyone is fair game; being a main characters does not guarantee safety. It makes the world more realistic. Various characters have different truths they live by and there are many you will hate at the mention of their names.
I can honestly say that I recommend this book to anyone I know who likes fantasy. Martin is one of my favourite writer's in the genre.
The Bad: Like Robert Jordan, Martin is sometimes too flowery with his descriptions. He also doesn't shy away from violence and other graphic scenes that are sometimes censored from other fantasy novels. Like any good western, this book is full of sex and death and it's not for everybody.
As well, this book is jam-packed with characters and subplots that some may find difficult and frustrating to understand. My advice is if you can follow Lord of the Rings or Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, you shouldn't have any trouble with Martin.
I'll agree he isn't for everyone just as Jordan isn't for everyone. The books are long and jump around location wise. There's lots of swearing, graphic behaviour and occasional offensive misogynistic actions. There's also little resolution when it comes to the various plots but remember this is book one of a series. Some events are setups and plots that seem pointless now develop and grow in later books.
The Ugly: Somebody find Eli Wallach.