Marcus' hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody's death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.
Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation's wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.
Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.
Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path-the path to war.
Released: April 7th 2011 Pages: 555
Publisher: Orbit Source: Library
First Look: ***** I didn't know much about this, but it looked like a high fantasy that's fairly standard, but also not. And I'd seen it compared to A Song of Ice and Fire, so I figured, why not? I've been starting to dabble in non-YA high fantasy, so it looked like it was worth a try. (While I'm at it, any recommendations for me?)
Setting: ***** Meh. It was there. That just about sums up my opinion. I never loved it, but never hated it. It worked for the story, but there wasn't anything about it that stood out. I never had any reason to care about the place, as a whole.
The aspect of the thirteen races was interesting, but it bothered me that it was never fully explained. Apparently these beings were all humanoid, with minor variations, but it would've been nice to get some description instead of just term-dropping.
Characters: ***** I feel the same way about the characters as I do about the setting. The people were there, and they carried the storyline, but that was about it. I wanted more from them--some sense of connection or emotion--but I didn't get it. They were, at least, borderline interesting. I enjoyed Cithrin's resourcefulness, Geder's need to make his mark on the world, and Marcus's sense of duty. Their personalities were distinct, but it never got to the point where I personally cared about the characters.
Plot: ***** I appreciated that the plot wasn't your standard fantasy-war story. Instead of focusing on the kings and battles, it focuses more on smaller things: a city bank, one man's private fighting force, a minor noble. Even though this gave it the chance to be deeply personal, I always felt disconnected from the plot, partly due to its slow pacing. It takes a long time for things to get moving. Once things started happening, I thought I'd get more into this, but then it slows down again, losing my interest. It spent way too much time with unnecessary details of Cithrin's banking ventures. Did I really need those min-lectures about economics? No, not really.
Uniqueness: ***** I've give it credit in this area--it manages to fit nicely into the high fantasy genre while still maintaining its originality. I can't say it's the most original fantasy I've ever read, but it differentiates itself enough to stand out from the crowd.
Writing: ***** The book is split into three different points of view, one for each of the three main characters. While this worked, for the most part, I occasionally lost track of who was narrating, especially when following Cithrin and Marcus's storyline. Geder is off doing his own thing, but Cithrin and Marcus are interacting with one another for much of the book, and their narrative voices are virtually identical. I would've liked more differentiation between the two.
Overall: This book had the potential to be an interesting, unique fantasy novel, but I just feel "meh" about it. I never got to the point where I truly cared about the characters, which made it hard to connect to any aspect of the book. I liked how it focuses on individual people and their stories, while so many other high fantasies focus more on overarching battles and politics. Still, it was a rather bland read for me. It isn't bad, necessarily--I actually have very little opinion, one way or the other.