So, what is “A Song of Ice and Fire”?  Well to put it simply, it is a still continuing fantasy novel series written by George R.R. Martin.  Four books in the series have been released, “A Game of Thrones”, “A Clash of Kings”, “A Storm of Swords”, and “A Feast for Crows” and there are another three in the works which are expected to be titled “A Dance with Dragons”, “The Winds of Winter”, and “A Dream of Spring”.  Each book runs about 800-1200 pages in paperback with smaller print.  So, why would one want to spend months reading massive books of an incomplete fantasy series?  Well, let me tell you why.

First off, I don’t want to review each book individually because to do so, I would have to give away plot points and mention what is going on in the previous book.  So if I give a brief synopsis of what the whole series is about and point out what makes these books so amazing I won’t have to ruin any of the twists, turns, and huge surprises within them.  And all these twists and surprises are one of the things that make this series so wonderful, you never know what to expect.

So, the world in which “A Song of Ice and Fire”(from now on to be referred to as “ASOIAF”) takes place is a land where seasons last for many years, called Westeros.  Westeros is a continent, I guess you could say is the size of South America, that highly resembles medieval England.  There are kings, queens, castles, knights, cavaliers, rolling hills, large mountains, and is all surrounded by seas and ocean.  All the lands are separated into regions and each ruled by a family and succession of each region is achieved by birth rite.  All the regions are unified as a single Westeros ruled under King Robert Baratheon who sits on the Iron Throne, a throne made of old and sharp swords, in a city known as Kings Landing.  King Baratheon has become king after winning a civil war usurping the “Mad King” Aerys Targaryen, who had ruled the lands with insanity and cruelty, in a battle that has become known as The Kings Sack.

There is a place all the way to the north of Westeros, in the land of perpetual winter, called The Wall.  The Wall was built to protect Westeros from an ancient threat know as the Others and is protected by an order called The Sworn Brotherhood of the Nights Watch, there has not been any action or sightings of the Others for thousands of years so many believe the stories of the Others just a myth.  The area north of The Wall is scarcely inhabited by renegades and outlaws, which has become the main focus of the Nights Watch.

South of the wall in Northern Westeros lives the family Stark, rulers of the region of Winterfell.  House Stark is ruled by Eddard Stark, who was a major player in the civil war against Aerys Targaryen and is a great freind of King Baratheon, and his wife Catelyn.  One day King Baratheon comes to visit Lord Eddard and ask of him to become his hand, the person who helps the king, advises the king, and speaks with the kings voice when the king is not available, an extremely powerful and influential position to hold.  And from here starts a runaway train ride that twist, turns, careens and does things that would never be expected.

There is also the survivors and lone heirs of Mad King Aerys Targaryen, his young son Viserys and younger daughter Daenerys.  They have survived The Kings Sack and eventually escaped across the ocean into far away and strange lands.  Viserys has become hellbent on reclaiming his fathers throne and has become quite a bitter person and Daenerys takes the brunt of his wrath.

So, there is a lot going on in the three base storylines.  And between these three storylines there are hundreds of characters, each with an unique personality and own personal agenda.  It is these characters which make ASOIAF so immersive and engaging.  Each chapter is told through the perspective of a different major character so we get an in depth look on what is going on around that person and why they are doing what they are doing and how they feel about different situations.  We also get to see opinions of other characters in different lights and get into their personality more.  Some moments you will despise what a certain character is doing, and then you will love them later and cheer them on or feel sympathetic for them.  There is no black and white and the line between good and evil is  thin is almost non existent.

This is also not your average fantasy novel series.  Usually when one thinks of fantasy thoughts of wizards, magic, dragons, ogres, and beasts unknown come to mind.  While there are traditional fantasy themes in ASOIAF they are not a main focus and are not really brought up often, with the exception of a couple things that you will discover as you read.  This gives the book a more human and less cheap approach to situations and ideals and lets us relate ourselves to the characters and situations in the book more deeply.

This is not a book for children, unlike many fantasy novels which can be enjoyed by the young and old alike.  There is violence, war, adult themes, sex, and rape.  All of these themes are tastefully written, don’t go into unnecessarily detail, and make the story feel more real.  A great thing that Mr. Martin does with this approach is create a sense of danger and suspense.  You never know when a certain character may be killed, deceived, or harshly betrayed, and trust me it does happen and when you least expect it.  I found myself just staring at a page in shock of what just happened quite a few times.  No book has ever made me do that in the past, and I’ve read a lot of books.

So, why recommend an unfinished series?  Well, as much as I can’t wait for the next installment to find out what happens to my favorite characters and the land of Westeros next, I would still content with the wonderful ride that the fist four books brought me on and I feel many other people would too.  Mr. Martin does have a track record for releasing these books rather slowly, but heh, art takes time and a story of this magnitude, with so many details and twists, takes a while to write.  I would much rather read a novel that was not rushed, fully realized and is something that the author is proud of and enjoyed writing.

So, in closing, I recommend this book to all readers(except the kiddies).  Even if you don’t enjoy fantasy I still suggest putting your reading time into this series.  George R.R. Martin is a master of the English language and writes beautifully and has perfected characterization.  He is more than the “American Tolkien” and ASOIAF is a major point in the history of literature in my opinion and will be loved by many for ages.  Read these books!!!!!!!  (and if you have read these books, please don’t put any spoilers in the comments and ruin the experience for someone who has not read them.  If there are spoilers, I will automatically delete the comment with haste.)

On a side note.  HBO is turning these books into a miniseries where each book will get its own season, starting with the first book “A Game of Thrones”.  I’ve been following the production and it is looking like it is going to be great.  They have some passionate people directing, producing and creating the world of Westeros and the cast looks superb.  I am definitely hyped for when it airs on April 17th, 2011. So, if you start the series now, you have plenty of time to finish up the first book before the show airs.  I’m sure the show will be great and go into many of the details withing the novels, but as always there are things that film cannot recreate from books.  Check out the trailer, it’s spoiler free and super cool.

And here’s a superb song by Blind Guardian that is inspired by ASOIAF.  It really captures the feel of the books quite well.  And as always, if you like the song, buy the album!!!!