A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)
I found, for free, the first two books of the series. I read the first one, I don't expect to read any more. I have also watched the first two seasons (all that have been broadcast) of the HBO series. My summary of the general backstory would be:
A thousand years ago people from the continent crossed over a land bridge to a previously long isolated island and established a kingdom. The land bridge closed and everything was isolated again for several hundred years. Then people started to come across by boat and new kingdoms were carved out. Eventually this guy who had some dragons decided to unite the whole island, this was about three hundred years ago. That guy made a throne out of swords of his enemies which is still being used. Then his family ruled, with incest as a rule, until one particularly crazy guy got the throne. The people rebelled, and the old king was killed. This is about ten-fifteen years before the story starts. Book one deals with the end of usurper king's life, and the rest of the series is about the "free-for-all battle" for power. Will it remain a single kingdom or revert to separate smaller states? Who will have power and how much? There are long histories of who did what to whom that are still motivating people.
The island is somewhat modeled after England, with a frozen northland kept walled off (ie, Scotland) and a continent to the East. There are various families with substantial power at the start, each with their own motivations, rules of conduct, and resources. Each family also has distinguishing physical attributes and naming styles. Eg, the Lanisters are all rich and blond; there is a tradition in the Starks of naming one boy in every generation "Brandon".
There are hints of a substantial threat mounting in the frozen northland that will probably figure into the conclusion of the last book. The story in many ways uses examples from European history for how things are done. King Robert, in the first book, reminds me of Henry VIII in many ways: his love of tournaments and hunting, and his lavish spending. Robert has a single wife, however, and does not instigate a religious shift.
I've heard people gripe about the new words the books introduce.
I did not find this to be a problem. Some of the words are not real terms, but coined for the series, eg "sellsword" for "mercenary". All of them seem well enough obvious from context. Or perhaps I'm just better versed in medieval terms.
There is far too much visual detail about everything. My understanding is he is a frustrated TV script writer who turned to novels because TV companies did not want to work on the scale he did. The books, if half as long, might be worth reading, but bleh. I'd rather read something that's a real history, or something that is really historical, not bloated fiction about a fictional world.
Final thought: just finished Les Liaisons dangereuses (1990 translation of 1782 book)