Taking as its cue medieval history (specifically the War of the Roses), and the historical novels of Bernard Cornwell and others, George R.R. Martin has crafted a large, ambitious opening to his A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy saga with A Game of Thrones. This was my re-entry into fantasy novels and, at 800+ plus pages, turned into a bit of a struggle as there was plenty space to reconfirm some of my issues with the genre. However, 800 pages is also enough space to bludgeon you into identifying with A Game of Thrones' characters, and I found myself not only enjoying it but having a chuckle or two as well.
It would take a novel to explain the story, but essentially A Game of Thrones sets up the epic struggle for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms - a massive land that was once ruled equally among seven Houses, but is now overseen by the King who sits on the throne. Seasons last years, and the next Winter is fast coming down on the land, which brings with it hardship and the threat of the mysterious Others which lie on the other side of The Wall, am enormous structure that cuts off the top most point of the country. The action largely follows the Starks of Winterfell, a noble family of the North who through various intrigues become embroiled with the "Game of Thrones" - the power struggle that ensues after the death of the latest King, friend to Eddard Stark the Lord of Winterfell.
Each chapter of the novels is from the viewpoint of a different player in the game, from multiple sides of the conflict (there are at least three sides, with a possible 4th that I gathered from the book). For a "fantasy" novel there's actually very little in the way of stereotypical fantasy elements - no elves, dwarfs (well there's one but he's a real dwarf as opposed to a LOTR dwarf), wizards or terrible beasties for the most part. Think more King Arthur than Tolkein. It's not thrown away - there's a prophecy, bastard children, dire wolves as pets, and zombies to boot.
Yup, zombies. Folks, you can't away from the cultural zeitgeist that is the Walking Dead.
The end of the novel beings to play up the fantasy bits a little more, and I admit to laughing out loud at the last chapter - not in a bad way, but in a "all right you bastard, you hooked me!" way. It's not all fun and games, though. The language is pretty bland and at times downright awkward (there's a reference to someone's "butt" and twice the word "bunghole" crops up) that jars you from the story thinking, "there's no way that character would actually use that word."
So we're not talking about great writing here, but the multiple storylines and action comes together pretty well, well enough to bring me into the second novel, but not so much that I'm itching to read Book #2 immediately. That's another 800 pages I'll gladly put aside for a bit.