Second installment of Martin’s fantasy —A Song of Ice and Fire,— following A Game of Thrones (1996), that enormous yarn about the strife-torn Seven Kingdoms and the various powerful families that aspire to rule them. The rewards are considerable: a backdrop of convincing depth and texture; intricate, flawless plotting; fully realized characters; and restrained, inventive magical/occult elements. The drawbacks, though, also loom large: non’self-contained entries; a cast of thousands, and, as a result, the impossibility of remembering, especially after the passage of more than two years, who’s who or what’s been going on. Martin declines to supply a recap or synopsis; the list of characters, itself 28 pages long, doesn’t help. Nonetheless, the inaugural volume was both admirable and eyepopping, so fans will certainly plunge right in. And since this one tips the scales at a gargantuan 896 pages, you can build up your biceps as you read.