It's a shame about Ned Stark. This character has honesty and integrity; a natural leader who doesn't want the power associated with leading (there are woefully few of those around). To say that this book is about the Stark and Lannister families set in a pseudo-medieval backdrop is oversimplifying a complex plotline but much of the action is centred around their bitter rivalry. The story entertains familiar themes in the fantasy genre - ambition for power, deceit, warring factions at the heart of kingdoms, relationships between humans and animals - and just for good measure, a healthy dose of illegitimacy and incest.
You do have to trudge through the early scene-setting chapters necessary to this type of fantasy opera normally filling several novels. Don't let this put you off however, I started the second instalment straight away after finishing the first. Novel number one can be read in isolation, but the characters are so devious and nasty that you really hope they get their comeuppance. And so I begin the second novel in anticipation.
Ned and his family are at the centre of this first story - the attempted murder of Ned's small son and an accusation of another murderer made by his slightly disturbed sister in law sets in motion a chain of events which ends in a vicious war between rival families across kingdoms. Innocents and oddballs caught up in events add extra depth to a tried an tested formula. A good escapist romp.