This little series - 2 books so far - is one of my favourite fantasy reads EVER. (Blair's other full-length novel, Sword and Chant, which I think is set in the same universe at a far different time is really good too!) It's smart, non-formulaic, adult, thoughtful, fun, action-packed and dilemma-filled. But not the kinds of dilemmas that are huge and bombastically dramatic, but more personal, character-driven and complicated in their effects. It's darkish, but never grim. Serious, real shit is happening, but there's always a wee bit of hope. :)
Blair writes beautifully. Her prose is simple, yet filled with impact. You FEEL the desert and the heat and the cold. And her characters! OMG, they are so rich and well-rounded, filled with wonderful qualities and all too human flaws. Even the bad guys of the tale have multiple dimensions.
Speaking of the characters, all my old favourites are back and we are introduced to some new ones along the way. Also, we see changes in some characters who are coming into their own. One of them, Layla, who I despaired of in the first book, has grown and has some substance now. I love authors that can do that, make me enjoy a character I once disliked or had no time for. :)
When I think of this book and its predecessor, I tend to put them in the same corner of my mind with Guy Gavriel Kay. Wonderfully written, diverse characters drawn with skill and depth, a way of writing setting and location that puts you RIGHT THERE and just... well, just everything that's good. (And the covers are gorgeous!)
This is one of those books that makes me wish I could write reviews that are pithy and fabulous, but sadly, that's not my forté. I wanted to gobble the book up as quickly as I could, but I also wanted to take a long time and savour ever little bit of the journey - I think I ended up somewhere in between. I cannot recommend this book, this series, highly enough! I think they're little known in fantasy reader circles and that's a shame. Blair is one of my very favourite fantasy authors, along with GGK, GRRM and Katherine Kurtz so go READ THEM!!! :)