I find that to my tastes this novel is so concerned with creating an 'epic fantasy series' that it forgets itself and the reason people buy books.
A world has been created and yet we learn very little of that world and it's history - only tasters throughout its 864 pages. Not enough.
The most interesting characters are Tyrion, Daenerys and Viserys and that leaves many others, whose motives beyond being power hungry and wanting to remain political survivors are never filled out enough. It makes engaging with the characters difficult, and this is corroborated by the fact that many, many reviews state that the reader could not track most of the characters. Characters are recognisable by their words and their actions, these are driven by their 'wants and needs', put differently these become their motives.
That is what this book lacks - clarity, and therefore I find that I was pulled out of the fantasy, out of the story, in order to deal with the realities of tracking who is who.
The historical context is never fully realised. There is a rich world history in Mr Martin's head it seems, but little of it on the pages. It takes the HBO website for the TV series to fill in all the blanks. The HBO rendering of the novel is excellent not least because it is is driven by a very well edited screenplay and script.
In terms of battles, the largest engagement occurs between the armies of Stark and Lannister. While the ruse was good, the book fails to cover this enough. It covers the before and after - just like in the HBO series, a point of note for those expecting the battle to be shown.
In summary, this book delivers intrigue, AKA the 'Game' in the title. No doubt what Martin intended, but I think it delivers little more than that when focussed upon anyone but the surviving Targaryens' and Tyrion Lannister. Indeed for all his wealth and therefore power Tywin Lannister manages only a cameo role.
If you want battles, wit, politics, characters who live and breathe on the page, read James Barclay 'Cry of the Newborn'. If you want blood, rage, heroics and for my money one of the best Fantasy characters ever conceived (Glotka) read Abercrombie 'The blade Itself'.
Where was the fire? This left me feeling unfulfilled and approaching hypothermia.