Fans and detractors alike use George R. R. Martin's incredible A Song of Ice and Fire as the measuring stick to compare all other modern fantasy, and when it comes to complex, intriguing characters and plot, all others fall short. If there is a criticism to be had of this series, it is that it can be long-winded. A book can go for hundreds of pages just building backstory or following arcs of characters that, depending on your personality, you just may not enjoy. But those who can stick it out, absorbing the tidbits of historical minutiae and enormous detail, will find themselves rewarded with some of the most shocking moments—sometimes heroic, but often gruesome—in the genre. The unfortunate side effect of this is that it can change you as a reader and make you expect more than many authors are capable of delivering.
There's one other thing that people often complain about that I feel is a bit unfair, and that is that Martin is taking a long time to finish the series. Martin is a craftsman, arguably the best of our time, and he is not one to be rushed to finish a story with an uninspired ending. In ASoIaF, he's never written to please a particular audience; he's not pumping out books for your appeasement. He writes what he wants, in the way he wants, when he wants. And that is exactly what has allowed him to make such a superior story. He doesn't owe any of us anything. We owe him a great thanks simply for sharing the amount that he's shared with us already and, perhaps most importantly, for raising the bar for what great fantasy can be.
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones. More on Goodreads.