I have something to confess. It was not until I heard of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" that I heard of George R.R. Martin and his "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. Even then, I neglected to think about picking up a book until after a friend of mine said they were amazing as we walked back from yoga in the park one morning. After that, it took me watching the first three seasons of "Game of Thrones" on full throttle over a very shameful and long weekend to realize that I needed to read these books. The first is "A Game of Thrones" from whence the show gets its name.
Before I start extolling the virtues of Martin and the first of his epic series, I have to say that readers should not be wary if they have seen the show. The two compliment each other well. Moreover, you can depend on the old truth of books always having more than their media counterparts. Knowing the outcome of every plot line did absolutely nothing to curb my elation, revulsion and amusement as they unfolded.
You may know this already, but "A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin is a fantasy fiction novel. I know, surprising. It takes place on two fictional continents -- Westeros and Essos. Martin manages to do a pretty solid job of flushing out most of Westeros for the reader right in the first novel. Essos is touched on as well, but, at least until this point, the bulk of the action is in Westeros and what happens on Essos is intertwined with the plotline in Westeros. In short, pay attention to the different realms in Westeros. It will be important.
Now, Martin did his job as a fantasy writer well when it came to his geography, but he could have done a crap job on that and still had an amazing novel. Why, you ask? His characters are stellar. I say that with no lack of enthusiasm. The show does the depth and facets of each character little justice and that is saying a lot. As I read "A Game of Thrones," all of my favorite characters gained new strengths. My least favorite characters become even more revolting. It was awesome. Every single person in these books has a distinct personality, an interesting background and a definitive part to play, however small.
Because the point of view of "A Game of Thrones" shifts with every passing chapter, it is hard to become bored. Right when you hit a peak with one character, you are flying along to the next, sometimes across vast oceans and deserts. My personal verdict is that any fantasy fan would be remiss in avoiding "A Song of Ice and Fire." George R.R. Martin may well be the Tolkien of our generation, even if the master can never be fully matched.