I’ve been looking forward to reading this series ever since I learned it was being published, because I really enjoyed the author’s Long Price Quartet which begins with A Shadow in Summer. Although this book seemed pretty different in style and tone from his previous series, I still really enjoyed it.
This book had all of the things that I typically expect from a good epic fantasy series: multiple cultures, distinctive geographical regions, complex politics, wars or rumors of wars, noble characters, despicable characters, etc. There was a lot of setup in this book. There wasn’t much exposition, and the story was interesting, but it did meander around a bit as we slowly learned about the world and its inhabitants. I rarely felt like I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next, and I could see somebody reading this and getting frustrated wondering, “where is all of this leading?”.
The prologue interested me from the start though, and I think (hope) gave a good indication of where the story is going. We start off reading from the point of view of an unnamed character just known as “the apostate”. He’s learned something terrible about the cult he was a part of, and he’s fleeing over the mountains to try to escape them. We learn that he and his fellow cult members have spiders living in their blood, that they can tell whether people are lying or not, and that they have the ability to persuade others that what they say is true. A lot of questions are left open at the end of the prologue, but it was a very intriguing opening and I was especially anxious to learn more about what led the apostate to the situation he was in.
There isn’t a particularly huge cast of characters. There were only four main point-of-view characters, not counting the apostate whose point of view we only read from in the prologue and the “Entr’acte”, and not counting a fifth character who served as a point-of-view character in a couple chapters near the end. Here's a brief bit about each main character to maybe help give people an idea what the story is like:
* Marcus is a former hero with a tragedy in his past that caused him to turn away from serving kings in battle and turn toward mercenary work. Marcus was the character I liked best and, although he definitely didn’t always do the right thing, he was the most noble of the four characters.
* Cithrin is a seventeen-year-old orphan who has been raised by the branch owner of a major banking company. When war comes to her city, her guardian charges her with smuggling most of the bank’s wealth out of the city. Cithrin was a somewhat sympathetic character, and sometimes I liked her, but I also got exasperated with how easily she fell to pieces. She didn’t handle stress or obstacles very well, but maybe I didn't give enough consideration to how young she was.
* Geder is a soldier that nobody respects and even his superiors play mean tricks on him. At first I liked him and thought he was a sympathetic character, but I soon grew to dislike him. He caused a lot of his own problems, and he reacted to things badly. His choices were (almost?) always made for selfish reasons, and he made some absolutely horrible decisions.
* Dawson is an older noble whose sections of the book were especially political and filled with scheming. I disliked him from the start because he was arrogant, looking down on anybody of a lower station, and seeing everybody in terms of whether they were his enemy or his ally. It was difficult to tell who around him was truly a bad person and who was actually a good person who just saw things differently than he did.
Even though I didn’t like all of the characters, I still enjoyed reading their stories. Marcus and Cithrin’s stories overlapped throughout most of the book, and I enjoyed their story the most. A large part of that was because they were both around another character who I was very interested in although we didn’t see him nearly often enough. The other two characters’ stories became more interesting as the book progressed, especially Geder’s.
In the Kindle version I read, there was an “Entr’acte” (French word meaning “between the acts”) that should have gone after the last chapter, but was instead buried after an author interview and a preview of the next book. I wonder how many people missed that altogether, thinking the book was over. I really enjoyed it too, because it went back to the character I was so interested in from the prologue and it confirmed something I had been pretty certain of since chapter one but which had never been stated explicitly.
In general, events grew increasingly interesting toward the end of the book. I’m really looking forward to reading the next book to see where things go next.