1) The Words: Martin is a good writer. His descriptions are vivid and intriguing. His characters are complex. Martin captures how a single man (or woman) can be capable of both evil and good, honor and cowardice.
2) The World: Martin is also undeniably a master world-builder. The history, geography, religion, and politics of the Kingdoms of Westeros are almost fanatically detailed, sure to delight any Tolkien addict. Also, the magic of Westeros is subtle, strange, and seldom used – a pleasant change from the fanatically regulated magic of J. K. Rowling or Tamora Pierce; somehow, the unpredictability and lack of uniformity in Martin’s magic makes it seem more, well, magical.
3) The Drama: This series is a soap opera. A Game of Thrones is 800 pages of plot twists, politics, and lots and lots of sex. It’s bursting with oaths, honor, love, hatred, betrayal, murder, drama, birthrights, war, incest, and doom. No wonder it’s so popular.
4) The Length: A Game of Thrones is long. Big books are always a plus with me.
5) The Laughs: I’m afraid it took me most of the book to realize that the two houses, Stark and Lannister, were really York and Lancaster. Once I did, though, the parallels between A Song of Ice and Fireand the Wars of the Roses became glaringly obvious, and it was quite fun to spot them go by.
1) The Point of View Characters: Oh dear. Here comes the rant… Martin’s biggest problem seems to be a complete inability to keep the number of his POV characters under control. There are nine of them. Nine.Granted, one of them only appears in the prologue because he gets killed almost immediately, but still, that leaves eight. Eight different characters are all trying to tell me their stories at once, and the result is chaos. Each only has an average of a hundred pages to catch my interest and my empathy, and those hundred pages are scattered in bits all over the place. It’s like being at a party, trying to get to know eight different people having eight separate conversations. Martin drags you around, spending five minutes with one person and his conversation, then moving on to someone else and spending five minutes with her, and then on to someone else, and so on. When the party’s over and done with, you are exhausted and you still don’t know any of them very well. It simply doesn’t work. There are cliffhangers that last 200 pages, and by the time an old POV turns up again, I’m scrambling to remember exactly what had been happening before we’d been interrupted. And I’m told the situation only gets more out of hand as the books progress.
2) Idiots: I can stand to read about people making mistakes. But I hate – hate – reading about people being idiots, and towering idiocy seems to run in the Stark family. (SPOILER ALERT) I don’t know which annoyed me more: Sansa’s empty-headed belief in Joffrey’s and the Lannisters’ goodness, despite repeated evidence to the contrary; Caitlyn arresting a very powerful noble and brutally trying him for murder with no proof whatsoever; or Eddard warning a traitor that he is about to reveal her, although he knows she has killed unscrupulously to cover her treason, then just walking away, allowing her to prepare the murder technique of her choice. Good grief. (END SPOILERS)
3) The World: For those of you that don’t know, the basic idea behind Martin’s world is that seasons last for an indefinite period. Summer could last a few months or ten years; winters can last even longer. This is a cool premise, but there are several problematic issues. How does real-world life evolve/survive in a world like that? How does the human population manage to store and keep a food supply for an indefinite winter that will arrive without warning? Can food still grow in the winter? Why aren’t there mass migrations between hemispheres when seasons change, so that people live in an eternal summer? In 800 pages, Martin addresses none of these problems, which weakened my suspension of disbelief.
4) It’s a soap opera. At no point in this book did I feel like the characters were headed to a final resolution (unless you count “they all die” as a final resolution). The plot of A Song of Ice and Fire seems to be just dramatic episode leading to the next dramatic episode, and every now and then, someone gets voted off the island. There’s no real substance to it; reading A Game of Thrones felt a bit like eating a giant bowl of popcorn: you munch away happily until it’s all gone, but when you look back afterwards, you realize that there wasn’t much there.