A Game of Thrones is a fantasy novel that is very loosely based on the medieval English Wars of the Roses, and I mean loosely based. The political motivations that fueled the actual Wars of the Roses are very different from those that fuel the political strife in the Seven Kingdoms. Martin's universe also differs from ours in that it has dragons, decade long springs and winters, zombies, and a whole lot more incest. The world is rich, imaginative, and thoroughly constructed except with regard to religion, which plays a surprisingly small role in society and everyday life.
The book is told from the view point of multiple characters, a device that I typically don't enjoy, but worked in this novel. It didn't feel abrupt or disjointed, and each character's point of view was distinct from the others despite being written in third person. Most of the characters were interesting to read about, some more than others, and their viewpoints provided necessary insights into the story.
Character development is light but sufficient for a story that relies mostly on political intrigue and larger mysteries to move the plot forward. The novel is filled with morally ambiguous characters with hidden motivations, which keep the reader guessing until the very end. There are no wholly good or perfect characters, though there are several that would probably score high on a psychopathy scale. Martin is also not afraid to take off the kid gloves when handling his characters. He turns strengths into weaknesses, punishes good deeds, rewards bad ones, and breaks taboos. There is the sense that no character, no matter their importance, power, or likability, is truly safe.
Despite its length, A Game of Thrones is fast paced and engaging. The prose are not overly dense despite being packed with information, and the writing style is easy to read. Martin for the most part avoids unnecessarily long info dumps, instead revealing history, backstory, and other details throughout the novel. While there were a few grammatical errors, in particular with regards to tense, the story is generally well written, and there were only a few instances of over description. The book is long because a lot happens to a lot of characters, not because of gratuitous details.
A Game of Thrones was a fantastic read and would probably have been even better had I not been spoiled by the television show, which is also entertaining. The television show does improve on the book in some ways (e.g. aging up the characters) so it is possible to like one and not the other. Although I loved the book, I realize it's not for everyone. Martin has constructed a very brutal and misogynistic world that will not appeal to all people. Also, those looking for profound character development or tons of romance should stay far far away. But for those interested in dangerous court games, moderately complex characters, and large sweeping fantasy stories with unexpected twists and turns, I'd recommend checking this one out.