Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin is the first book in the series entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. This is a broad sweeping epic with a huge cast of characters, plots and sub-plots, and a setting that becomes more real as you read further and further into the story. There are four other books published since the first was released in 1996, and I will include them later.
The setting is the Seven Kingdoms which are divided into various feudal fiefdoms very similar to England's feudal period. The map provided in the book is divided into two main sections. There is The North with the House of Winterfell as the major feudal entity ruled by Eddard Stark and his family. Their motto is "Winter is Coming." Why this is their motto soon becomes apparent when you discover this world has winters and summers that are measured in years rather than months. A structure named "The Wall" was erected centuries ago and has reached a height of 700 feet. It is constructed of stone and ice blocks and extends across a narrow section of The North to keep out wild men and other creatures that live north of The Wall. The Wall is manned by Rangers who are knights and conscripts who have sworn an oath to live out their lives at The Wall. They dress in black and are considered neutral to the rivalries and battles among the great houses to the south The Wall, although not in size, reminds me of Hadrian's Wall built by the Romans in Britain to keep the Scots, Picts, and other wild tribes at bay.
The South is obviously warmer in climate and I would guess the distance between The Wall and Casterly Rock, the castle of King Robert, to be 1500 to 2000 miles. Fortunately the system of measurement used in the book is the English System so the reader doesn't have to do some research to estimate distances, height, etc.
This book is centered around the Starks which include Eddard and his family; King Robert and his family; and the Lannisters, who are the queen's family. The Starks include Lady Catelyn, Eddard's wife; sons Robb age 14, Brandon age 7, Rickson age 3; daughters Sansa age 11 and Arya age 9. Eddard's bastard son Jon is 14 at the beginning of the book and is called Jon Snow. Each of the major houses has bastard sons and use various last names to designate their status. House Stark uses Snow for a surname. To make the story even more interesting there is another smaller group, a brother and sister, who are all that is left of the family of the former King and are now in exile in lands farther south of the Seven Kingdoms. The brother has visions of regaining the throne, but must find a way to raise an army. The author uses an interesting method for telling his story. Each chapter is named for one of the main characters and develops the plot and sub-plots around the person whose name heads the chapter. At first it may seem confusing, but soon it works and the book, all 674 pages in the paperback version, moves along very quickly.
If you are a J. R. R. Tolkien fan of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings you should like this series. It is similar, but not the same. I think this is good. No one should be able to write like Tolkien and I hope it never happens. Having said that, this is a very good story that just keeps getting better and better. Once it pulls you in it does not let go. I'm already reading the second book in the series A Clash of Kings. The next ones are: A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and the fifth book that recently was published, A Dance With Dragons. This series is not for the faint of heart. There is plenty of blood, gore, intrigue, betrayal, and surprises for the hardcore fan of this genre. Also, the author isn't afraid to kill off some of his main characters. Some of them deserve killing while others do not.
I realize this quote is long, but I think it will help establish the setting of the book for you. This appears on the back cover of the paperback version:
"As a whole, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, bringing together the best the genre has to offer. Magic, mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure fill these pages and transport us to a world unlike any we have ever experienced. Already hailed as a classic, George R. R. Martin's stunning series is destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.
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 wildings 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."
As Robert Jordan said in his review: "Grabs hold and won't let go. It's brilliant." If you are a fan of fantasy and have not read this series, what are you waiting for? Get reading!!