It almost pains me to give this book one star because I love Tamora Pierce and Winding Circle so much. But honestly this book really disappointed me.
I think one of the major issues was that she had already hinted at so many plot points from her other books, which limited the direction of the story flow. We knew that they would be in a war, we knew that Evvy would meet Luvo, we knew they would be forced to do things that would give them horrible nightmares. These plot points were basically the entirety of the story, and we already knew them coming into the story. It made the book predictable and not very... real. Like she's following an outline of a story rather than letting the characters and situation develops as it pleases.
Another major problem was the battle scenes. This book relied heavily on actions and war scenes, focusing on the darker side of life. But Tamora Pierce just doesn't write this sort of genre and it shows. The battles come across as very watered-down and almost childish. She attempts to make dark and gritty scenes where killing people is equivalent to murder in the real world, but the scenes read more like fantasy battles where deaths are not as important as the fantasy. But then her characters mourn their loss of innocence as if it really mattered and then it just didn't feel believable because the war scenes didn't translate to that darkness she was aiming to convey.
In the same light, there just wasn't enough exposure to the villain. They spend a couple days with the emperor, he burns the rose bushes and keeps couple of prisoners and suddenly he is evil incarnate. Uh... no. That's really not convincing enough for me to see that he is evil. It's so white and black, it really is like a children's book - which makes the realistic deaths even more unbelievable. And Evvy and Briar saving one prisoner. Is it realistic that there is only one prisoner? They want to do good, to save their friends because it is the right thing to do, but they only save the one person because they know him. That is such children's book logic. Ughhh that's the major problem with this book. It attempts to be an older book, what with dark scenes of torture and murder and revenge, but has unmistakable traits of a children's book. And it fails at being either.
The scenes with Rosethorn just didn't work for me either. She didn't read well as a character because she seemed so world-weary as an adult. I just didn't believe her character when the plot was focusing solely on her. And sometimes it slipped into first person.... Uh strange. And then that quest? RIDICULOUS. It felt fake, unnatural, just another random task that she had to do. Actually, most of the book's plot felt like that - like the characters were just going though the motions.
The only redeeming thing was seeing the characters interact with each other. Because I love Briar and Rosethorn and Evvy, those scenes were fun to read. But.... Even those weren't up to par, to be honest. The characters didn't change, they never revealed anything different than what we knew of them beforehand. And that is a problem when a character doesn't change in a book at all. They were like stereotypes of their own character. Evvy was always hoarding food, Briar was always subtly trying to care for Rosethorn, and Rosethorn was always tweaking someone's ear. Cool. But I've seen it all before. I wanted more or something different.
What's more is that none of the side characters even made an impression on me. In all of Pierce's other books, you do end up loving the secondary characters - but here, they might as well be cardboard cutouts.
And was it just me, or did Pierce suddenly turn into an overly descriptive writer? I've never had a problem with this before from her writing, but she really piled on this descriptions of clothing and buildings. Descriptions that did next to nothing for giving greater understanding of characters or scenes. It was too much.
The ending was a cop out. Literally deus ex machina with the gods.
This was just a weak book from Tamora Pierce overall. I am so disappointed because I thought The Will of the Empress was absolutely amazingly well done. This felt more like Melting Stones. Unpolished and more than a little boring.
One star because I didn't think this book was written well. Too many problems with unnecessary plot, unrealistic battles and emotions, uncertainty if this is a children's or adult book, weak character development, etc. I would still read it because I love this world and the characters. But to be honest, if this was the first book I read of Winding Circle.... I would not even pick up the other books. Recommended only for fans of the previous books.