I'm bummed because I had a nice response all typed out and I spazzed and clicked away, losing it all. I'll try to remember all I said
I'm about 1/3 of the way through the first book and I find it to be a good read so far (though you're right that there are aLOT of books by this guy, not to mention in this series, so it is a bit of a committment). I would consider it to be an epic fantasy along the lines of Tolkien's work insofar as the author appears to have gone to great lengths to create a universe and mythology that has a great deal of depth to it. While so far he has doled out the history and mythology (the big picture back story if you will) in bits and pieces in order to focus on the present storyline, he has done so in a way that, rather than frustrate the reader, ignites in the reader a desire to find out how it will all eventually tie in to the present-day storyline.
Again, it is a series that came highly recommended from a wide variety of sources with disparate tastes in literature, and that suggests that there is more than just a fantasy story element to this.