I Just finished the first book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The book, A Game of Thrones, is a big (800 page) fantasy novel, densely packed with battles, political intrigue, well-rounded characters (many, many, many well rounded characters), and loads of great plot twists.
The scope of the series seems even grander than the one by that other author with the middle initials R.R. – and what's more, Martin's writing is less weighted with descriptions of scenery than LOTR; a huge bonus.
Martin plunges the reader into the story, choosing to reveal backstory (and there's lots of it) through the conversations of the main characters rather than through some long slow prologue. For that reason, the first 100 pages are a bit slow going, requiring you to figure out who's who, how they all know each other, and how the realm's politics work. But once you get that straight, it's hard to put down.
I've moved on to the second book and, while I can't say yet if the whole will hold together, the first book has left me hopeful that this series will outshine Tolkien's trilogy in the end. Of course there are still 6 books left to read – 2 of which haven't even been written yet!
I'm not a huge consumer of fantasy books – I haven't been since I was a teenager – but this series has really got me hooked. I just wish I could find someone to talk to about it. Thankfully, it looks set to grow in popularity. Evidently HBO bought the rights to these books and will be turning them into a series. I'm very happy it's HBO that's doing it, too. They've proven to be a reliable source of good drama, and I'm hopeful this series won't be any different. If it takes off, I'm sure others will be reading the books soon enough.