I've taken to listening to long fantasy epics while working in lab on the microscope--it is a great way to maintain a high entertainment level while actually getting work done!
I attempted to read a paper copy of A Game of Thrones a while back (at least I know I read the beginning) and, as I recalled, didn't find it extremely compelling. I now suspect that was because I didn't get fully into the plot and was bogged down by the large number of characters and place names in the novel. I think that the audiobook helped in this respect as the excellent narration (by Roy Doltrice) gave each character their own voice qualities such that it was easier to tell them apart.
The novel centers around House Stark, the family that has ruled the North for thousands of years from their seat at Winterfell castle. War is once again upon the land during the weak rule of the once strong King Robert Barratheon. Following his death, different factions in the land are playing at "the game of thrones" to consolidate their own power in the Seven Kingdoms.
Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different major character (most of them from House Stark). This type of narrative is particularly effective and moves the pace of the action along nicely--I was rarely left hanging wondering what was happening to one character during one of these shifts in narrative.
I definitely tend to more Tolkein-like fantasy with magic, different races, etc. A Game of Thrones definitely did not follow many of these conventions, instead tending to mimic the customs and culture of medieval Europe. There has been little mention of races other than humans and no magic in the conventional sense. It is definitely a different take on a fantasy setting (dare I say refreshing?), distancing itself from the more formulaic world/settings of the Wheel of Time, The Sword of Truth, etc.
The novel opens with a curious incident in the far North, beyond the Wall, where a party of rangers is attacked by a strange humanoid creature (what can only be one of the 'Others'). This somewhat mythical race (maybe human, maybe not) is referred to throughout the book but we never get another solid look at them. I hope that this plot line is expanded upon in subsequent installments of the series (there are apparently 7 books planned, of which there are currently 4 published).