Difficult to review, this one. I so, so want to love these books. Isak is a freakin' GREAT character, and his trials and tribulations and growing power and personal growth are immensely satisfying to watch. Similarly, Kastan Styrax is a fantastic antagonist - highly intelligent, intriguing, slightly unfathomable. Fabulous. Plot summaries are not what I do - and I couldn't do one at knife point because this book is such a mess, plotwise - so I'll go with the usual nit-pickery:
- Isak has really come into his own. His character's development is splendid, and even though he still has doubts and, now, strange visions to deal with, he displays the strength and wisdom he has earned, which is extremely gratifying to someone who has read the first two books.
- Kastan Styrax. Much more than just a villain, the dude has A Plan, one which I can't wait to figure out. He's a great character, with this quiet intelligence, his calming influence on his son, great tactical finesse, and some far-reaching motive I've either forgotten or yet to find out. Fascinating.
- I do not understand the lay of the Land. I've lost count of the number of times I had to turn to the map, only to see where everyone was, and then be disappointed because it'd be somewhere in a city and I'd forgotten which one, so the map didn't help. The many parts of the Circle City were just too much - and I still don't understand why we needed them, and the various rulers, and some flood coming down from the mountain in that one part of the town...and who lived in that part of town again? And why was it important? I do not know.
- Either I'm not clever enough, or Tom Lloyd expects a bit too much from his readers. Some gaps in the story-telling were too hard to bridge. I couldn't follow, had to spend time turning the pages back to see if something had been explained elsewhere, often to no avail. (Example: Isak needs to go to war, needs to take the Farlan to meet Kastan Styrax's army in battle. He is worried about the Elves invading while he's gone (which they MIGHT do, but there's no knowing), so, instead of leaving some of the army in the northeast to deal with the POTENTIAL threat, he makes a bargain with a Goddess that, in his words, will cause "genocide". He "can't even count how many will die from this." And he cries. WHAT THE HELL? Why was that necessary? I do not know.)
- Much is made of the chrystal skulls. Everyone is hunting for them. Some people already hhave one or two. What are they good for? I do not know.
- There are toooooo many characters in this book. I mean it. I'm no stranger to multiple plots and entire hosts of characters (witness my love for the Malazan series), but I need at least some justification of why a character is given the time of day. For example: There's a three-page back story on a minor character who doesn't show up again. Wasted words. We have Doranei pining after Zhia, and King Emin suffering the aftermath of Scree, both characters appearing but having no hand in current events. Wasted words. A Goddess dies - spectacularly, I have to admit - and a mortal takes her place, but why that whole episode had to be in this book, I do not know. Misplaced words. Minh (Minh! Who is awesome!) is suddenly angst-ridden, and we spend a lot of time following his dealings with some witch who's making him more awesome - but there's not enough pay-off to warrant ALL THE WORDS. And so on. Too many people, too many places, and too many gaps.
- Nit-pickery: There are some really, REALLY jarring POV problems in here. They mostly manifest in word choice, for example: When King Emin comes home to his wife, a broken man from the horrors in Scree, he tries to tell her what happend and 'There was pain in his voice now, and he hugged his royal bride tighter' - Um. His royal bride? Is that what you call the wife you love? I'm not sure...
By rights, this should be an awesome, awesome read. Ruhen is creepy enough to create suspense and threat. Kastan Styrax's plotting is amazing, and I can't wait to see what comes of the 'grave robbery'. (That whole thing with the riddle was really, really cool.) Nai is splendid, and mysterious and funny. Isak is heart-breaking and breath-taking, even if I didn't understand any of his military strategy. There was just too much. Of everything. I will continue the series, because I harbour secret hopes of unexpected alliances and eppic ass-kickery, but it was hard, hard work loving this book.