My rating for this book changed a couple of time as I was reading it...why? Allow me to elaborate. After all, the author loves elaborating :) .
This is a medieval type fantasy with no magic to speak of in sight (not a problem for me by the way...just letting you know if it's important to you). The book takes place (basically) in Lenayin...or among its provinces. Lenayin has 13 provinces, it also has either 3 religions or, more accurately 2 religions and a philosophy. The map of course shows 13 nations (that's 12 beside Lenayin) apparently depending on how you count them. This of course doesn't count the Lisan Empire west of the mountains which is on the map but we haven't really dealt with yet. There is also one non-human race. They get discussed, but we don't really meet any of them till near the end of the book. These are the Serrin. They strike me as sort of Samurai-Elves...or possibly Ninja-Elves.
The geopolitics of this world can come close to putting the ones we actually live with to shame. The new religion hates the old religion, the philosophy wants everybody to live together peacefully, therefore it's not really trusted by anyone not subscribing to it. The people who are of the old religion are mostly the commoners(now) so the "royalty" is actively seeking to convert them in the time honored way of the fanatics of many religions...sword point or sword edge or possibly fire, etc. you know whatever works. (It's for their own good after all.) All this of course started long before the book opens...this means that with the amount of politics and intrigue the author has included we get treated to many long and "windy" discussions for the purposes of plot exposition. Add to this the fact that in time honored "fantasy" novel tradition we are treated to new, unknown, mostly unpronounceable and consonant heavy names. Names of people, names of kingdoms, names of provinces, names of religions (some hyphenated) and many similar "looking".
I looked up and read an interview with Mr. Shepherd and he goes on about how the world and it's politics are far more complicated than we find in most fantasy stories, even taking what I thought was a veiled swipe at Tolkien's worlds...I mean okay come-on. I'm giving you 4 stars but the book's not even in the same arena/league with The Lord of the Rings...get over yourself. Anyway...if he was intending to "intricate-up" his fantasy geopolitics, he succeeded.
Now please, don't leave me a message telling me how you managed to follow the politics. That you just had to concentrate and apply your obviously superior intellect to the matter. I followed it also. The story while overly complicated is readable and so far holds up along with Shepherd's world construction. But come on, it's a fantasy. Mr. Shepherd has a lot to say here and you can read a lot or a little subtext into the story as you prefer. I just felt that "The Story" would have profited by being a little more center stage.
This is a 421 page Trade Paper and I believe it was around page 200 that I actually found myself (finally) being drawn into the story. It faded in and out a few times but finally settled in to tell us the saga of Sasha and the other major players in the central story. In the end I liked it, mostly. There is what seems to be a lot of dead-wood in this novel, though for all I know he may be setting up an epic series that will run on for several more books and need it all. I had the impression that this was to be a trilogy...but now that the third one is out Amazon is referring to a "quartet". (This is an update, there are now 4 books)
Please not another Wheel of Time! Please!
So far I intend to order or obtain the next 2 books (the third one is due out this fall-this is an update. I haven't bought it yet.). This one I rate (in the end) a 4. I went back and forth along the gradation from 3 to 4 several times but once it manages to get "off the ground" it finally manages to spread its wings and flies pretty well.
Update: So far I've put off purchasing the next book(s). There are indeed 2 more already out and at least one more to come (in the not to distant future I assume as there is a title and cover and Amazon is taking pre-orders). I'll probably wait till I see if #4 is the final volume and it's out before I buy. I mean it's not like I don't have other books to read. :)
Update 2: I have purchased the books...have not yet read beyond this volume however. My "to be read" hoard (horde? I mean the books over-running me is becoming a real possibility) is out of hand. "So many books so little time" as it goes.