Before I begin, I should point out that my intention in this thread is to discuss the entire series so far, the characters, the plot, the twists etc., so there will be SPOILERS. I figured that the Game of Thrones thread in Le Cinema is a more suitable place to discuss the story as it unfolds, and here we can discuss the books and story as a whole. So, from this point onward, spoilers abound!
I admit I had never heard of this series until the HBO show came out. Although I generally like fantasy stories, I don't actively seek them out, it's more like I stumble onto them. Such was the case here as well, and I'm really glad it happened. I bought the entire series as soon as I could after I finished watching Game of Thrones and finished reading it a couple of weeks ago.
First, some general impressions: This is clearly a very character-driven story. Out of all fantasy/historical fiction I've read, I don't think I've ever come across one that revels so much in such a close study of character and thought process. G.R.R. Martin handles it very well most of the time and it's been a pleasure getting to know everyone and seeing them evolve even to the point it changes how I feel about them. I like how the story expands and incorporates an ever increasing assortment of characters and places. It can become a bit confusing at times, what with everything one has to remember about anything, but again, most of the time Martin does a good job of holding it together. I also feel the decision to keep the fantasy elements at bay so far is contributing to the appeal of the story, because whenever those elements do show up, they are more potent. Now, about that "most of the time" I keep mentioning. The first three books move along relatively quickly and smoothly. There is quite a lot of action, there are big changes going on and everything is relatively fresh to the reader anyway, so it's no mystery that these are the books that are most highly rated among fans. And then we come to A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Personally, I enjoyed both of these books, maybe not as much as the ones before them, but not much less either. I enjoy the plot, I like Martin's approach and I still want to see how it will all develop. However, I think that the drop in quality is evident, especially in Dance. Altough as I mentioned, I don't really mind as much as some of the fans (countless scathing reviews can be found), I think an important reason for that is that I read it all in one go. I'm not sure I would have been as positive if I had waited 6 years or so for the new installment. Martin's character development has stalled considerably, indeed in some cases (Daenerys) it even goes backwards. Characters repeat the same thoughts (a natural thing in real life, but not good book material) and even phrases (God, Tyrion, shut the hell up about whores and where they go!) over and over again . Some of his linguistic "mannerisms" become increasingly repetitive, as do his descriptions (really, I don't think after 5 books we still need to have feasts described to us in every detail, nor exactly how each and every person is dressed and/or armored). And finally, the "death twists": This is the most crucial point. I am worried that Martin is becoming trapped in his own gimmick. What started as an exciting element of A Song of Ice and Fire, that nobody is safe, is becoming more like...well...a gimmick. A means to provide cliffhangers and cheap thrills. Catelyn was savagely murdered, but hey, she's back! Brienne's death was dangled before us only to be (apparently) retracted. Jon Snow appears to have been killed...but will he remain dead? If he does, fine. If he "lives on" as part of Ghost, that's also fine I guess. But if he turns out to have simply been injured, or if he is resurrected by Melissandre, it will not do. I hated that Jon (appears to have) died, I really liked him and his plans, but now that he did, he needs to stay dead (well, partially at least, i.e. Ghost).
Ok I need to stop myself now, that's enough for a first post. There are many things I'd like to discuss but I'll wait and see if this thread picks up.
EDIT: In case some people jump ahead of the first post, maybe a moderator could add the word SPOILERS in the thread title? I tried editing it but the change does not register in the Literature sub-forum. I would hate to ruin it for someone.