I was very torn on how to rate this book. I do not think it quite met the four star standard, but it was, by far, not three stars. I wish I could have rated this as three and a half, but I went ahead and rounded it up.Overall, I think Martin did a wonderful job pulling away for your formulated fantasy genre. Out of all of the fantasy books I have read (which are not many, since I tend to strongly dislike the genre), this has been the most thought out, realistic piece I have ever read. What I favored: Ned Stark has quickly become one of my favorite non-fiction characters. Even as the reader, I felt myself wanting his approval and his attention, and I enjoyed a character who was so faithful to his honor that it became his weak point, and his brightest quality. I was very distressed when he died. I understand why he died, and what an impact it made on the storyline, but I still feel that his death was pointless and painful.Dany. I wished Martin would have spent more time fleshing her out instead of telling us of her internal transformation. At times, I felt that she was a little 2D. However, her character at the end of the book gave me goosebumps. She is going to be a mighty force, and I enjoyed watching her mature and grow, and begin to path her own way. The Stark Children - As intended, I have become fond of Jon, and even the other children have been very enjoyable. Sansa had some of her qualities, even if she was a bit cruel and lightheaded, but she was not mean spirited, merely spoiled. Robb, I can see, is going to take up his father's place as the hero that the audience loves. I felt so horrible for Bran, but I see good things in his future.Leadership - What really drove the story home is the role of the king. So many books and stories end off with "And they lived happily ever after" when the hero is crowned king. Robert was right, however, when he complained that winning a crown is far more fun that being a king. This simple plot device really added some depth and layers to a sword-and-slash fantasy story. Character Qualities - Mostly everyone, even the "villians" in the book, were not completely aligned. For example, Jaime Lannister was a haughty man who slayed the king her swore to obey, murdered Eddard's men, including one who he loved very deeply, and brought harm to Bran Stark. However, he did indeed love her family, and he did believe what he did was right, not cruel. Most of the other characters did show that they possessed good and bad qualities. What I did not care for:Catelyn Stark - horrible character, poor choices, oh woe is me, I am so much more noble and I am always RIGHT when I overreact, but no one else can overreact. Why couldn't SHE have been beheaded??Sex - I'm not a prude, but I do not want to hear about wet lady parts and royal sex. It was important to the story, but it was focused upon far too much for my taste.POV - I did like that we were able to get into the heads of so many characters, but at times, I felt that the constant swapping of POVs drug the story down. The chapters should have been longer from one point of view instead of the constant switching and tedious story threads. Even though I was ready to swear off these books, I think I want to start what I finished. Overall, it was a wonderful story that brought me into the lives of the families,. I felt their pain, I enjoyed their victories, and in the end, I do not know who I wish to see win the games overall.