I was a little slow to jump on the bandwagon and read A Game of Thrones (1999) by George R.R. Martin. I'm not a big reader of epic fantasy novels, and even after I heard good things about it, I was wary of devoting so much time to such a long series.
But I got into the characters and story almost as soon as I started reading. I am now halfway through the first season on HBO, and I have the second book waiting on my kindle. Once I get a little more free time, I'll definitely work my way through the rest of the series.
Martin has created a very intricate and complex world filled with power-hungry leaders and feuding lords somewhat reminiscent of European history. But there are also small glimmers of dragons, magic, and zombie-like creatures scattered throughout that, surprisingly, do not affect the reality of the characters' lives.
The story centers around two important families--the Starks and the Lannisters, and the power struggles, private secrets, and political intrigues that cause friction between them. There are so many compelling characters that I do not have the time or energy to get into them all. To quickly sum up, there are three primary locations: the seven kingdoms where the Starks and Lannisters struggle, the small community of guardians of the night watch at the Wall in the North, and the Dothraki horse-riding warriors from across the sea.
As I mentioned earlier, I really found this book entertaining, and I'd recommend it to almost anyone. It's detailed and grounded enough that I really began to care about the characters, and there's enough excitement, violence, sex, and intrigue to keep the plot moving despite its length. (Spoiler?) The only storyline that sometimes took me out of the story was the forced marriage of Daenerys Targaryen to Khal Drogo, one of the leaders of the Dothraki. Their marriage night creeped me out. Daenerys is thirteen years old and sold into marriage, but their wedding night seemed like something from a romance novel. It didn't fit either of their characters and I could not forget that she was only thirteen. I felt that--along with some other scenes with Daenerys--it was unrealistic and exploitative. I much preferred how HBO interpreted the wedding night scene. However, that was just one, small complaint from a very long novel. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.