This review does not contain spoiler tags.
This book sprung a nasty surprise on me before I even reached the first page. I didn't know Janny Wurts (of War of Light and Shadow infamy) was a co-author on this series. It was enough to get me to hesitate reading it. Yet eventually I relented. It was a co-authorship after all, so maybe the thing balances out to the positive side.
How wrong I was.
The book covers the story of Mara, who finds herself suddenly thrust into ruling her noble house as her father and brother are betrayed. So far so good, but then the problems begin.
First is the prose. Now this, I'll admit, is a personal thing. I don't care for overwrought descriptions of things that do not warrant it and this story is a prime example of that. Descriptions of food and clothing are everywhere, even when there is no specific point to mentioning those. The only good thing about them is that they come in blurbs, which allowed me to easily skim over them. Overall, though it's readable. I wouldn't have managed to finish the book otherwise.
The plot is worse. The entire book is a string of distinct set pieces where a single problem is presented and then resolved. For a story that is supposed to be about intrigue this is rather conveniently compartmentalized. And that adverb I just mentioned there is basically my summary of the entire plot.
It's all so convenient.
Mara starts out with her House forces diminished from a few thousand to around fifty. This is a huge problem, but then news arrives that their herds were raided by gray warriors, which are soldiers who became houseless for one reason or another. Of course she recruits these and thus immediate problem solved.
Next up is the lost Spymaster from another fallen house, who hid among these gray warriors. It just so happens he still has a huge information network available and he only needs a year to recover it.
Yet just before he leaves he tells of a new hive queen who can be bargained with so that Mara gains a bunch of man-sized insect warriors for herself. I don't even recall what they were called, as after their recruitment they aren't mentioned again save for a few throw away lines that they're still there (I suppose these return in the next books).
Then there is the part where a dove lands nearby, plucks out its own feathers, runs through a batch of spices and then cooks itself into a nearby bonfire before flying into Mara's mouth....
Okay, that didn't happen. But I was half expecting it by now.
My point is; the book tries real hard to make Mara appear as a shrewd player of the intrigue while in fact, all she does is waiting for either aid to fall into her lap or for her enemies to hoist themselves on their own petard. And yes, the petards are dangling in very convenient spots as you might expect.
The real kicker is the final part of the novel where she faces off against the main bad guy. Apart from the fact that she walks right into his hands for no reason beyond 'honor demands it' (you have a blood feud with these people, I'm pretty certain that gives you leeway in refusing their invitations to get murdered) the resolution that determines her fate hinges on who's telling the truth after a violent altercation. With two witnesses with contradicting stories things don't look too good, but lo and behold. There just so happen to be two mages present (only mentioned once before in the entire book) and they just happen to have a spell that allows one to replay the past in crystal clear HD for everyone.
Don't read unless you don't care about plot at all. Needless to say, I won't be bothering with the next one in this series.