George R. R. Martin's sweeping saga has been the latest big thing in fantasy for several years now. The ending of the first volume, A Game of Thrones, upset me so much I put it down and waited a year before picking up the sequel. That's always a good sign.
The key to his popularity is three-fold: one, the complexity of the work - a richly detailed pseudo-medieval setting, ambiguous characters, multiple players with multiple goals. Two, a ruthlessness unmatched in other fantasy authors (with the single except of Mary Gentle); the man does not mind killing off those major characters that you like so much. Three, pretty dragons!
Unfortunately all three factors are a bit wacky here. The dragons have escaped altogether, into the next book. What was a healthy sense of violence towards his characters has turned into a tendency towards resurrection and trick endings. And the complex framework has spiraled out of control, plotlines and viewpoints multiplying without rhyme or reason.
I am trying to picture Martin writing this book and my mental image is of him wrestling a bear. Which would be something tosee, because he's quite hairy.
I'm afraid he's a victim of B.A.D.: Big Author Disease. It's happened to some of the giants of the field. Bradley, Heinlein, McCaffrey, Jordan. Something happens to certain authors once they reach a certain type of success. I don't know what it is. But someone who previously might have turned out neatly-plotted fast-paced volumes suddenly starts producing monstrous obese books that clearly need to be edited to within an inch of their lives.
And yes. It is nippletastic.