I found A Game of Thrones somewhat disappointing. A Clash of Kings gave me much more confidence in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, but I still struggled, slightly, with some aspects. This third volume (of a series originally intended to be a trilogy…) is damn near perfect, as far as I’m concerned.
Again, there’s not much I can say about the plot without spoilers for the first two novels, and this certainly shouldn’t be read without those. The continent of Westeros is ripped apart by political strife between several of its most powerful families. Meanwhile, supernatural threats gather in the frozen north and across the Narrow Sea. I’m not even going to get into specific characters, because this is a series where anyone can die, and just knowing who survived the first two books would be a little too revealing.
Martin was already a mature and accomplished writer (especially of short fiction) before he began this series in 1996, but I feel that his prose has matured significantly since A Game of Thrones. His dialogue is memorable, the characters are complex and fascinating (this volume is famous for making one of the most hated characters of the first novel into a fan favorite), and surprises abound. The world-building is amazing, and Martin clearly has a detailed history for this world and a thorough understanding of how its politics and economics work. The supernatural elements are especially fascinating, as magic is rare but immensely powerful.
My one complaint (I always have at least one) is that some of the characters' movements seem a little random. One character in particular has been bouncing back and forth through the middle of Westeros for nearly two-thousand pages. There have been some good sub-plots along the way for her, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a clear aim or purpose for her character.
This is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read, and I’ve really come to love this series. I know that it gets more frustrating from here, with the waiting and the awkwardly split novels. There’s no way I can’t keep going after this entry though.