No mincing words: this was a dark and bloody read, and in my view, a shade too dark and bloody. Strengths first, the chief one being that it’s a well-plotted novel, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing on the way to Orso’s palace. There were some genuinely colourful and amusing characters, from the protagonists, Monza and Shivers, to the accessories, like Friendly, Morveer, and Nicomo Cosca. I’ll admit to quite liking the latter two as comic diversions. I’ll admit, too, to liking some of the other humour, dark as it was (especially the bit when Shivers, over the course of a few pages, swears about science, magic and banking, declaring each to be worse than the other and ending up in a closed circular loop that you need to be at least slightly awake to pick up).
Unfortunately pretty much all the characters in the book qualify as scumbags of some order or the other. Only Monza appears to have redemptive qualities, even though of course she only turns out to become Styria’s foremost murderer by the end of the book. Shivers only gets darker and darker as the book wears on; having half his face and one of his eyes painfully burned out is a fairly unsubtle way of signalling character transformation. I also did not enjoy the repeated and unnecessarily bloody battle scenes, finding myself yearning to skim a good chunk of them.
Verdict: Read if you like reasonably well-plotted fantasy, and don’t mind blood. Lots of blood. More blood than George R. R. Martin. Not to mention repeated observations about the futility of vengeance, even though the entire book happens to be about just that. Now if you merely want to read good fantasy, and with few caveats, I’d suggest you direct your attentions towards Brandon Sanderson, whose works are infinitely less depressing and just as well-plotted, if not better.
I give this book: 3 Flying Swords (out of 5)