Ironically, considering the subject matter of the novel, I find myself in a complicated political situation. Because I just finished an ARC of kenscholes highly-touted debut novel, Lamentation, which I promised to blog about, and it turns out I have very mixed emotions about it. And yet here I am, having promised to blog, and it's the debut novel by somebody I like, who also happens to be edited by my editor and represented by my agent.
I suspect honesty is the only policy here.
Okay. I'll get it right out front: I had issues with the worldbuilding, and some common fantasy tropes in the book. This is not surprising: having issues with common fantasy tropes is my job. It's what they pay me for. So there's only one female character in the book who gets much screen time, and she's a tall redheaded courtesan/assassin, and her eyes change color at least once over the course of the story. (They start off flashing blue and wind up blazing green.) There are a lot of flashing eyes in general. The only other female character who gets more than a couple of lines is only noted as "formidable" when the POV character also notices that she's cute.
The horses have no personalities, and every single one whose gender is noted is a stallion. (Interesting reproductive cycle these fantasy horses have.) The evil overlord generally seemed to be running his own errands a lot, and I found myself wondering about the economics and trade routes. Like, where does the ice for all these chilled drinks come from, and how are the semi-nomadic people transporting it on horseback? If they have ironclads, why don't they have trains? Where's the trade? Also, by the third or fourth meal description, I began to crave sliced pears.
And generally, if you dis an emperor that badly, you don't get to just walk out of the court and go about your day.
...see? This is why I don't usually read epic fantasy. I think about this stuff too much.
On the other hand, however, I can understand why the book is getting the buzz it's getting. It's a nicely convoluted political fantasy, and it plays fair enough with the clues as to what's really going on that I figured it out rather a bit before the protagonists did. Its morality is not as black and white as it pretends. It's written in a clean and engaging style.
And it has mechanical men, and postapocalyptical steampunk, and manipulative masterminds, and an exceptionally cool Pope. (And I say that as somebody who is in general against Popes.) So I imagine, if you are not the sort of reader who cares where they're getting their ice, you're going to think this is just freaking awesome.
And me, I'm going to be over here obsessing about the ice barges coming down river from the mountains with their precious cargo packed in sawdust and hay.
Don't mind me.