** spoiler alert **
It's really a 2.5 but since I don't have a half-star option, I'm rounding up.
I actually read book one several years ago when it first came out but I've reread it in order to have a handle on what's happening in the second installment. I remember being very disappointed in the first read; on the second read I liked it better but it's still something of a disappointment.
I suppose in my case it's a matter of having read the same type of story before in Cook's Black Company series or Dread Empire novels. Absent a compelling main character, there's no reason to read this. I actually like the main character, a spy named Else Tage who's been targeted by the gods of this world for destruction because he's found a way to kill them (i.e., gunpowder). Unfortunately, there's a lot of meandering between his viewpoint and other characters' and the novel lacks focus.
There's also too much ham-fisted exposition and a dismaying tendency to repeat observations over and over. A good editor should have caught that tic and checked it.
I'm also disappointed by the too thinly disguised nature of the world Cook's characters operate in. It's essentially medieval Europe and the Middle East and the players are renamed from historical figures and countries. There're counterparts to the Christian sects of the era (Brothen Episcopals = Rome, Maysalean = Cathars) and Islam (Dreanger = Fatimid (Shia) Egypt) and counterparts to the nations of the period (New Brothen Empire = Holy Roman Empire, Firaldian city-states = Renaissance Italy, Connec = southern France pre-Albigensian Crusade), for example.
Why not just make it an alternate Earth? Cook could still incorporate his ideas without difficulty.
My final complaint is the atrocious copy editing (at least in the edition I read). In one paragraph proper name is spelled two different ways (Madhur vs. Mahdur), and the confusion persists throughout. And, unfortunately, there are other equally egregious examples.
Which is not to say that I didn't like the books but if someone were to ask me for a Cook recommendation, I'd send them to the Black Company or The Dragon Never Sleeps (one of his best SF novels).