This was a definite departure from what I'm used to when it comes to GRRM. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I don't think that this was it. Not that it was bad... just not what I was expecting. I did enjoy it quite a bit though.
So, this story is set in the mid-19th century, on the rivers that vein the South and in New Orleans, during the slave trade... with 'people of the night'. The take on these vampires (let's call a spade a spade here) was different, and interesting... but oddly less satisfying than what I'd have expected, but it's hard to lay my finger on just what it was that left me wanting.
With the setting and the vampires, it was inevitable that it led to comparisons with Anne Rice's work... but for me, there is none. This may not be my favorite GRRM story, but it is head, shoulders, torso, bellybutton, butt, legs and feet above anything I've ever read of Anne Rice's work. I just cannot stand her writing. Her ideas are fantastic, but her diarrhea of the description is too much for me, and I just cannot read her. GRRM does a lot of description in this book, yes. I'm not saying he doesn't... but the difference is in the amount, effect, and purpose of the description.
Anne Rice describes simply for the sake of description. One could argue that it's so that the reader is transported into the world she's trying to show, but if so, she's doing it wrong. I don't need to know just what kind of wood a door is made out of, how many curlicues were carved into it, or how long it took to carve, or its thickness, or height or that it's a burnt sienna color or how many millions of hands have knocked upon it, or any of that mind-numbing detail to imagine an old, beautifully engraved door. It's too much, it's too tiring, and it's a waste of my time.
GRRM uses description to show the reader who his characters are, what is important to them, what makes them get out of bed in the morning. Captaining a steamboat is more than a job for Abner Marsh, it's his way of life, his livelihood, his dream, his passion. He lives and breathes it. So I'm OK with seeing the river and his steamboats through his eyes.
Likewise, Rice's & GRRM's vampires bear comparison. Both wrote about vampires questioning their nature, which is interesting to me, but again, where Rice goes off into repetitive existential drudgery, GRRM manages to still tell his story.
I was interested in the vampires' stories, particularly Joshua and Julian... I was interested in the two main human characters as well, Abner Marsh and Sour Billy, and felt a bit sorry for all of these characters. Each, in their own ways, lusted after the one thing that they can't have. But that made them interesting, and seemed to draw them all together again and again, even though they were working at cross purposes. I always enjoy seeing both sides of the coin represented, and GRRM does a great job at making it hard to choose sides, that's for sure.