In 1991, George R.R Martin began writing what was to be planned as a trilogy, the first volume of which was to be published in 1996. Today his work has five volumes (in the original or French version; another publishing house has also published it in fifteen French-language volumes). Each book is available between 15 and 20€ in French version (and a little less for pocket formats).
With the success of the series, and having time to kill, I threw myself body and soul into reading “Iron Throne” and the least I can say is that my impression is mixed. Reading is difficult, even for a seasoned reader, the vocabulary used is archaic, and it often happens that a sentence has to be reread because the writing is so convoluted. Basically, the style is heavy, but if we want to see the good side of things, we can say that G.R.R. Martin knew how to embody himself perfectly in the skin of a feudal chronicler.
The description is something else, since each chapter transports us into the head of another character, the author gives us a luxury of unheard of details that allow a total immersion in his world if your imagination is prolific. The rotation of characters gives the novels a dynamic that captivates and makes you forget (to a lesser extent) the busy writing style. The phases of description are sublime and one could almost touch with the fingertips the stones of the fortress of Winterfell so much it manages to put them within our reach. Or watch the blood spurting out during duels and other battles!
On the consistency side, you’ll notice that some scenes have been advanced or delayed in the series but nothing that is really disturbing (you’ll just feel like you’ve skipped or missed parts, in this case, think about the numbers at the bottom of the page :P) but the reading remains accessible and you’ll easily find your marks compared to the HBO adaptation. Besides I would almost say that it’s more interesting to see the series first, and then read the books rather than the other way around. The author does not give much detail about the basic context and the first chapters must be very (very very) laborious to read if one does not immediately immerse oneself in the author’s world. The book also clarifies the passage of time in the series, as the time markers are more present in the book.
But the big plus of the book is that the characters and ways of thinking of the protagonists are sublimely worked on, with each chapter change, it’s a bit like changing writers. Whether it is in the rhythm of the narration or in the things that the character first notices in his environment, the author has really been able to breathe life into each of his characters. And G.R.R Martin has decided to really exploit this aspect of his narration and plays with our Manichean leanings to succeed in making us feel pity for the odious Cercei or disgust for the severe but fair Catelyn; so that quickly, the bad guys who also have their reasons to act don’t seem so bad anymore while the good guys end up looking like tyrants (I’m exaggerating a little but not so much either).
There are still a few inconsistencies, the biggest, blatant, and undeniable is the character of Tyrion, a rather handsome dwarf in the series, we find ourselves with a “gnome” deformed and will go in the book. But hey, it makes his role as an innocent masked benefactor more impressive in the book and it gives his character a new day I think.
You will also notice that in the book, all the characters are younger (even much younger) than in the series. To take a few examples, Eddard “Ned” Stark and Catelyn both die at the age of 35, Robb Stark is only 16 years old for the “Purple Wedding” or Arya who should normally be 9 years old during the season 1. Similarly, at 14 years of age, those who would be called teenagers today are considered “made men” in the 7 Kingdoms. On the other hand some characters have been faithfully interpreted, such as the decati mestre Pycelle who has more than 80 spring!
In the end, reading the book is absolutely not necessary for a greater understanding of the series, of course you will be aware of more subtleties if you read the book, but nothing will totally change your vision of the series. All in all, I recommend it if you are a fan of the series, fond of small details, descriptions of the landscape of Westeros or the steppes Dothraks and you are not afraid of old French!