GRRM often says he takes history and "mix it up." Oh how he mixes!
There is something odd about the narrative structure. After three or four climaxes (more than enough for one novel!), he suddenly interrupted the plot for a lull of 13 years. Nine-tenth of the novel takes place in a few months in 1857, but the last few chapters within a few days in 1870. Why? No obvious reason, as the finale could easily be tacked on to 1857 without affecting the story one bit. I have my own speculation, about which I might ask him directly if I ever catch him at a con or a signing.
A couple of places in the book had the effect of punching me on the nose, leaving streaks of tear on my face. One of such passages is in the later chapter that spans those 13 years. It goes as such:
[Captain Marsh] never had visitors, never talked to anyone but his damned annoying housekeeper. She vexed him considerably, but Marsh didn't really mind; it was about all he had left to keep his blood hot. Sometimes he thought his life was over, and that made him so angry that he turned red. He still had so many goddamned things he"d never done, so much unfinished business ... but there was no denying that he was getting old. He used to carry that old hickory walking stick to gesture with, and be fashionable. Now he had an expensive gold-handled cane to help him walk better. And he had wrinkles around his eyes and even between his warts, and a funny kind of brown spot on the back of his left hand. He'd look at it sometimes and wonder how it had got there. He'd never noticed.
You know what the crazy thing is? He was no more than 33 when he wrote that. WTH GRRM? Did you always have an ancient vampire's soul living inside ya?
This is a story about, to a large extent, the complicated business of domination and submission --- Well, why mince words? It is about slavery, like nobody I've ever seen, especially in white American writers, in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn but goes farther. It goes beyond the American slavery, but it certainly does not shy away from that particular giant elephant in the room, casting a silent long shadow over a few hundred years on this place and its people.
His examination of the nature of slavery has resurfaced in the fourth and fifth books of A Song of Ice and Fire, with more depth, more angles, more complexity, and more unflinching interrogation.
GRRM's insight about organizational management is pretty astounding. I have never seen such realistic depiction of the tragedy of middle managers, except in David Simon's "The Wire" series. In Fevre Dream, he gave a grotesque and hilarious example: Every time the big boss has a problem, he calls his loyal dog (i.e., middle manager) Sour Billy Tipton over: "You fix it, Billy," he says. "Think of something." Billy acts with far more enthusiastic cruelty toward those beneath him than his boss, because like all middle managers he lives his entire life on the promise of getting a promotion. One more step and you'll be on top. Oh, so close yet so far ...