I am progressing steadily in the Song of Ice and Fire series, having just finished A Storm of Swords. The book definitely has the feel of a midpoint in an epic, and it can be hard to sustain the momentum during these spells. Since Martin eschews sensationalizing the fantasy elements of the story, it ends up reading a lot like history. But really well done history--we move smoothly from viewpoint to viewpoint, with each teller coming forward in turn, moving the plot along and revealing more about themselves in steady measure. We see the decline of Westeros here, though none of the characters seem all that conscious of it. This is consistent with their mostly noble positions--there is some concern here and there for the "smallfolk" and how they will get through the winter since the country is squandering several harvests on war, but in the end glory wins out.
And the lives of the players are quite tumultuous--more Starks get killed, and even the Lannisters suffer major losses. Spoiler alert, am going to talk specifics. Though I have not spoiled it for myself. Seems like Tyrion is going to be one of the continuity characters. Martin seems to be fond of him, it's hard to imagine him dying. Of course, one fantasy element that DOES appear to be playing a large role is returning from the dead--Berric Dondarrion set that up, then Catelyn Stark does so at the end. Most of Storm of Swords is chess moves, but at the end things are really hopping.
I am still wondering about the lack of standard progress in Westeros and the world. Eight thousand years, and they have actually gone backward a bit, at least as regards the Wall. But no explanations (just a bare hint in that Valyria seems to have been rather advanced before its Doom--no clue of what that is yet). Are long winters truly that catastrophic? We shall see.
I will be back shortly, am taking a break from Westeros to catch up on the online World Fantasy Award nominees.