Reminiscent of the epic lives of kings Henry V and Richard III at its very best, A Game of Thrones, as the initial installment of a series, unfortunately seems more invested in spending its first half introducing its complex web of characters, of whom there are enough to cast several of Shakespeare's royal plays, while setting up the machinations that depend on a very clear understanding these inter-branching family trees. When the story finally rolls, or when a reader gathers that it's rolling, he might still need something like a cheat sheet (or HBO miniseries) to keep the court intrigue understandable. Knowing that there are several novels to come, much of the above is forgivable, but more effort at characterization -- versus the generic-sounding fantasyspeak that wants to be more Shakespearean than it is -- would have helped immensely. Still, by novel's end, enough significant change has come to recognize the vast epic on its way, and enough characters have been played out to leave the reader with a recognizable hand. Four stars for promise, but on its own, probably three.