For me, these books are the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. So far there are four books in the series and it's unclear how many there will ultimately be. I just finished reading the first book, A Game of Thrones, and have begun the second, A Clash of Kings. Then I'll get to move on to the best one so far, A Storm of Swords, and wrap it up with A Feast for Crows. Then probably repeat until the next one, A Dance with Dragons, comes out, whenever that will be.
Here's the thing -- I hate fantasy novels. Actually, I just hate fantasy. Which is a complete riot when you consider what a Star Wars dork I am (and there's really no way you can truly understand what a Star Wars dork I am) which is totally fantasy. People classify it as science fiction because there are spaceships, but it's fantasy. Space fantasy, yes, but trust me, there's no science. Pure fantasy.
And I love Arthurian legend. Well, I used to love Arthurian legend, and I guess I still do in principle, it's just the reality has gotten old. Once you know the basic stories, every retelling is the same except they've tweaked this here or that there. It's a lot like reggae. I swear all reggae songs are the same song but with "Mon!" shouted here instead of there. I like it in principle and I'm very happy it exists, but I don't want to actually listen to it.
Oh look! I've digressed! So, yes, fantasy. It often involves elves and trolls and ::shudder:: talking animals*. I could never stomach Narnia, I don't care a fig for Lord of the Rings. I was once offered cash money to read The Silmarillion. I refused. My sister loves the Shannara series. I'd rather read Danielle Steel (and I don't want to read Danielle Steel, I assure you).
So, yes, the point of all this! A Song of Ice and Fire is almost-not-really-totally-yet-completely fantasy. But it's so darned good. The story isn't white and bright and pretty and spun glass and fairy wings. There are no unicorns. There's a lot of mud, a lot of blood, quite a good amount of sex, an array of human depravity, a great big huge ol' batch of politics and intrigue, and a bit of magic. All the characters have good points and bad. The chapters are told from different characters' points of view so you get inside lots of people's heads. And this may be the best part -- you really never know what's going to happen next because Martin isn't in love with his characters. Anyone could die at any time. Dont' you get sick of, "Well, this person is clearly the protagonist and will have a happy ending, we're just reading to see how s/he gets to the happy ending." I get really sick of that.
I can't review a book to save my life. Read this instead. I certainly can't recommend these books strongly enough. Try 'em.
So classes for the spring semester don't start until Jan. 16. Until then I work in the lab for several hours a day and the rest of my time is my own. So I'm reading and reading and reading. And knitting and crocheting. And reading. I'm so happy. Wouldn't you like to read with me?
*that said, I completely approve of talking animals in the context of stories such as Animal Farm and Watership Down. It's just not the same at all.