So I wrote a big, long review for this a while ago, and then Goodreads ate it. Guess I took too long. So you’re going to get the short-and-dirty version.
This book differs significantly from the TV show. There are whole plotlines that aren’t even touched on in the show, including, for those of you who were not happy about the Game of Thrones ending, (view spoiler). I personally think a lot of the way the show ended probably made more sense to someone who read this book, and there were whole plotlines that were almost completely dropped in the show besides the point.
Tyrion ends up in what I think would be his own personal hell in this book, and learns that “there but for the grace of God go I.” There’s a lot more going on with the Sons of the Harpy than TV fans might expect. And the Ironborn. And the Golden Company actually has a very important role to play.
And Martin sucks you right in with his intense, personally-focused style, his masterful command of the third person personal technique. Unreliable narrators, limited perspective, intense immersion into the psyche of the characters by the simple technique of changing the “name” of the character that heads each chapter to let you know who’s brain we’re in, people even interpreting omens to relate to their own personal experiences and what they themselves are doing… I haven’t seen anyone else comment on this, and it surprises me, because it’s my belief that it’s this, and this specifically, that changes Martin’s magnum opus from another excellent fantasy saga to something that rightfully earns him the moniker “the American Tolkien.”
Not his gritty realism permeating the fantastical elements; people have done that before. It’s the definition of “urban fantasy.” Not his well-informed look at what a high medieval period world would really be like; people have done that before too. Not his vast and epic worldbuilding; which, admittedly, is excellent – the genre is chock-full of people who can do that really well.
No. It’s his ability to show you his world through the eyes of his characters – and their eyes only.
As a writer, I’m taking notes. And as a reader, I encourage you to pick up this series and READ it, especially if you watched the show. Whether you liked how it ended, or not.