Allow me to explain: this is a big book, a very big book, that may take me a while to get through, just like Pillars Of The Earth did. As such I have decided that it may be an idea to write a 'kind of review' up to the point where I have read. A lot happens throughout that would take up a lot of space reviewing if done altogether - and I can't promise I'd remember every great thing that happened in it if I waited until the end.
I am up to chapter 35 out of about 70 odd so things are really just kicking off and there are still a few threads loose in the ether that need to be tied in. I say chapter 35 but in reality the chapters aren't numbered - they are given the name of the character we are following and it is then written in a predominantly third person p.o.v which is limited by what only the character can see/hear.
A Song Of Ice and Fire is an well written fantasy series set in the continents of Westeros and Essos. At the beginning of the book (and still up to this point) Westeros is a land at peace that is broken into seven kingdoms, from Winterfell in the Northern lands ruled by the Starks down to King's Landing where (as guessed in the name) the current royal family reside and further south (though I have yet to be taken to that area so no idea yet). In the prologue we are introduced to the land beyond The Wall, a large structure further north than Winterfell, that was built to keep 'The Others' from crossing into Westeros.
The start of this book pulls you in with death and suspense and mystery but don't you dare start thinking that this book is all about fighting and other types of action, I don't believe it would have stood the test of time quite so well if it was! The chapters that follow are more about political intrigue and the workings of a court than anything else but don't let this put you off as it's intertwined with the story in such a way for it to become interesting or just mentioned in passing through one of the character's chapters.
After the King's Hand dies King Robert asks for Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and old friend, to take up the position. Ned is reluctant but persuaded by his wife Catelyn Stark, nee Tully, that it could be a good thing for their family. On top of that they've just found a message from her sister that the last Hand's death may not have been entirely natural, so let's take the position and then have Ned look into it whilst he's down there - that's not putting him in a dangerous position at all, is it dear reader?!
With family problems abound and finding out his friend is not a friend anymore but a King and a stranger there's no question that Lord Stark is going to have issues in his new position of power. It really doesn't help that there's a new threat to the peace on the horizon that they've only just been informed could happen. It's annoying when us readers know what's being planned by those sly Targayen's but can't quite make our voices heard through the book ;)
This section ends with Ned Stark finally having a moment of realisation and doing something rather sensible (this is him though, he's always the sensible one) and now leaving me eager to keep reading on, worried about what will happen to these characters I've come to love and seen some of them mature. I speak mainly of Arya Stark and Jon Snow (Ned's illegitimate son). One having to learn how to behave like a lady in public and the other learning that life's tough outside the protection of his father, especially when you end up guarding The Wall. These two characters are definitely my favourites, as I'm sure Martin wrote them to be.
This is definitely an epic-fantasy that deserves all the attention it has recently started receiving. It may be in the fantasy section but it steers closer to politics and swords than the sorcery side of things and for this I'm glad. I highly recommend this for those fantasy lovers who have been absent from that section for a while or who were scared off by the recurring themes of magical elements or wizards at war etc etc (as I was) - go on, get your teeth into something grittier and less 'magic saves some world'.
I will be watching the TV show after I've read the second book (at the earliest).
Part two will follow soon, I hope.