Not trying to hijack the thread, but another great series is by Guy Gavriel Kay and the first book is[i] "The Summer Tree"[/i].
Much like GRRM he takes from real history and in this case it is definitely influenced by the Byzantine Empire. I really liked it. This author is very good and even assisted Tolkien in the finishing of[i]The Silmarillion[/i]
I know, we have a good books thread, but this author is really right up there with GRRM, at least I think so.