I've always been a huge fantasy fan, but apparently I have completely different tastes in fantasy than the rest of fandom. I enjoy some epic fantasy, but I've never been able to get into the "greats". Tolkien: bored me. Jordan: I swore never to start until he finished writing the series. Goodkind: also bored me. And then we come to Martin, who is apparently the next great epic fantasy author.
I feel like I'm really harsh on this book because it's just so over-hyped, what with the HBO series starting. I definitely judged it with a critical eye while reading, nitpicking writing and storytelling style, simply because of all the 5 star reviews.
I did enjoy parts of it, but I really didn't think it was worth the hype. Martin's writing was plain and functional - it got the job done without descending too often into purple prose. I thought he repeated certain phrases overly frequently ('sweet sister' being the one that annoyed me most). This was probably a stylistic choice but was definitely noticeable. I don't mind dark and gritty but I thought the sex and pointless violence was a little over the top. I didn't find many of his characters sympathetic or even likable.
Mostly I found the plot predictable, and the characters uninteresting. After the first few chapters, I really only cared about the plot threads of Tyrion and Arya. Dany, I couldn't care less about; while I'm sure her story will become more involved with the other characters later, her threads in this books felt really extraneous woven among the story of the Starks, and I found myself skimming through her chapters a lot because I really wasn't interested in her and brother (although I will admit to cheering when... her brother died, just because I couldn't stand him). Sansa, I just wanted to slap. Catelyn, too, at times, although she at least was a strong woman; she just made some really terrible choices. I think Sansa inherited bad decision-making from her mother. Catelyn's sister and her son creeped me out. The Wall chapters were decent, and Jon was a character that could have been interesting, but his characterization fell flat. I liked his friend whose name I can't remember - the awkward, overweight kid that was bullied.
For all my criticisms, I was glad to read this one so I can speak from a knowledgeable position when other people talk about it. Just to see how the story goes, I will probably read the next books when I can get them from the library, but I won't rush out to buy them.