A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
I read this series for the first time about four years ago after a friend of mine sent me this (he also sent me The Winter King, the first in a King Arthur trilogy that I loved, so he definitely has my confidence when it comes to any recommendations). After I read the first five novels in Butcher's Codex Alera (yes, I should probably write those up eventually), I realized I was in the mood for some more fantasy but wasn't sure where to go next. I feel like I've heard that there is one other really good fantasy writer in particular but I'm not sure if it was Terry Pratchett or Terry Brooks or Terry Goodkind (is there a rule that if your name is Terry, you must write fantasy?), and I feel like I've heard one of them described as a hack so instead I decided to fall back on an old favorite.
It still was an absolutely amazing novel. I remembered rather well the main plot points of this novel since they are such huge turning points but not all the smaller details. My favorite characters continue to be Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister. Since the novel is told from so many different characters' perspectives, the readers generally know more than the rest of the characters, and several times, I wanted to shake certain characters and tell them to stop being so judgmental, and stop trusting the wrong people or at least reevaluate their feelings about some characters.
The novel takes place in the fictional land/island of Westeros (when my friend gave me this book originally, he said it was similar to England during the War of the Roses), fifteen years after many of the royals led a rebellion against the mad King of the Targaryen dynasty. Since then, Robert Baratheon has been king and now he asks his best friend, Edward Stark, Lord of Winterfell, and the northernmost part of the Kingdom, to come south to the capital to serve as His Hand, or advisor. Honest and loyal, Ned complies, even after one of his sons has an accident and lies in a coma. He suspects that the last Hand, his friend and mentor Jon Arryn, was murdered, and he finds himself ill at ease with the political intrigues and backstabbing at the court.
While all of this is going on, there is another threat in the North that is introduced in the first pages. The men of the Wall, who have defended the realm against invasions from the north for milennia, are depleted, but it seems they may soon be facing a more important challenge for the realm and its people than they've seen for a while.
And lastly, on the mainland, to the west, the last surviving Targaryens still think of their lost throne and think of ways to get it back. The heir to the throne more or less sells his sister Daenarys into marriage at the chance of getting an army to help him regain his throne. However, as the novel progresses, and Dani grows up some, she realizes that she is stronger and more fit to be in charge than her brother who is a bit of a bully and unwilling and unable to compromise or understand others.
The thing I love about this series is that even though it is fantasy, there really isn't that much magical or supernatural stuff going on. Don't get me wrong, I like that kind of stuff as well, but I just like how much this novel is rooted in characters and political maneuvering. It is only as the novel progresses that more magic starts becoming a part of the series and it is as surprising to the characters themselves as to the reader. In the next novel, someone says that suddenly their spells started working again, better than they had in centuries, and that magic is returning to a world that had already given up on it and abandoned it.