if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, why do we pretend our kings hold the power? [loc.2227]
Finally finished this after watching season 2 of the TV version. I won't attempt to summarise plot (of which there is a great deal) or characterisation (mostly pretty sound). I am intrigued by the way the story's been adapted for TV: concatenating two characters to simplify the story; playing up the likeable aspects of various Lannisters right before they do something especially villainous; eschewing the characters' inner thoughts in favour of what can be shown.
There are some interesting new viewpoint characters, in particular Davos Seaworth (the Onion Knight) whose age and lowly origins give a different perspective on the antics of the would-be rulers. I think I might like Margaery Tyrrell, too. And Cat Stark is evidently a fearsome politician in her own right. How I would love to lock her in a room with Cersei Lannister: may the best woman win.
Perhaps there is less sense of progress than in A Game of Thrones, but the sense of magic returning to the world is growing stronger. It's not only Danaerys' dragons (whose very existence is making spells more effective a thousand miles away) but Bran's wolf-dreams, and the walkers beyond the Wall.
Martin is a plain, punchy stylist with a gift for resonant images: 'Janos Slynt was a butcher's son, and he laughed like a man chopping meat' [loc 2059]; 'His whispers scurried across the lapping water like a line of mice on soft pink feet'. [loc.10135] I could still do with more humour -- Tyrion excepted, what humour there is has more to do with cruelty than amusement -- and I doubt I'll warm further to any of the characters, but their machinations continue to be twistily entertaining.