Daniel Abraham weaves together a plot of kingdoms and individuals. It is a story of deception and truth telling, where orphan girls can smuggle jewels but can become so much more. Where actors and players don the leathers of mercenaries and where lords play the game of the power through puppets.
In actuality, this book is very similar to George R. Martin's series Song of Ice and Fire. It is formatted very similarly, each chapter through a different character's eyes. It jumps from seemingly unrelated story plots to another, but somehow everything that happens in one story line impacts the others. But if I were to truly compare the two, this book is a much easier read - in terms of length yes, but also in writing style (for better or for worse). He is less descriptive than Martin, less about the plot. Instead, Abraham focuses on the characters.
This book all about the characters. It's not the plot or the world that makes you read on. The plot was interesting, but at the end of the day, it can be simplified to a couple of sentences. It's the characters and how they react to these situations. You want to learn more about Marcus and his rough care for Cithrin, to know if Cithrin can pull off her deceptions, if Geder will ever stop being used as a puppet and more. But of course there is the flaw that comes with making the books about the characters - I found myself loving some more than others and found myself annoyed reading through "boring" characters. But that's only a minor annoyance because I still wanted to read through it.
One thing I think is wasted potential is the way Abraham portrays the different races in this book. Although it's a new world with all these different sentient beings, one could conceivably remove these races and just have different cultures of humans and the story would be no different. He puts this immense difference in his story world, but doesn't use it at all. There is no mention of hostility between races or really much of anything. So then why did he put this in the story? Perhaps it will reveal itself more in future books, but as of right now, it is only untapped potential. Perhaps not wasted, but untapped.
(But one thing I detest from these types of additions is that it always seems the most humanoid sentient beings are the ones most in power and the animal-like ones are devoted servants. I would imagine unrest bubbling up, but nothing is mentioned at all!)
The ending was perfect. It had the right amount of closure, but included just enough tantalizing uncertainties to make me want to keep reading. I look forward to the next book.
Three stars because I think it's a good book and I liked it. I do think it's about average or slightly above average for a fantasy/sci-fi novel (and perhaps below average for a high fantasy novel). But I enjoyed it very much and I would recommend it for people who like fantasy novels with a large number of characters.