Since I’m late to this game, I’m not sure what I can add to the discussion on this novel.
In some ways, it’s very Tolkien-esque, in that Martin definitely digs deep into the fantasy world building, and it’s clear there are many layers of information hidden beneath the story that I will never even see or read. In fact, by the end of a novel by either author, I think I have probably forgotten more than I have learned, because it can be so difficult to file away all that information on a first read.
In other ways, it’s nothing like Tolkien, in that Martin writes edgier, darker, bloodier, sexier, and more horrifying scenes and moments than Tolkien ever did. And I both like and hate that, at any given moment.
After I finished reading this, I watched the first season of Game of Thrones, and that worked great. The TV show stuck reasonably close to the book, and it helped me to see all the characters come to life on the screen before moving on to book 2.
Also, it should be noted that I listened to a lot of this on audiobook, and it’s a particularly good recording. I think I almost prefer listening to it over reading it, though I did both, depending on what was convenient in the moment.
Last thought: I recommend this to anyone who digs deep fantasy. You have to be someone who can weather the storm of heavy descriptions, in-depth histories, an extraordinary number of characters, lengthy battles, and multiple, complex story lines. If you can tackle that, I think you’ll find there’s a lot here to love.