Review copy provided by the publisher.
This is very much a secondary world fantasy, with the tropes that are, while not universal, common to that subgenre. It is a large book with many points of view, some of which only get one chapter when they’re needed. It features not just the relationships of people but of several cultures and nations. It has a lot of moving pieces, and this first volume is just the beginning. Some people do not like this kind of book, and it absolutely is a kind of book, it is pretty squarely in the middle of its genre.
That’s my main caveat, because this book is hitting all the beats of that genre really well, and then adding a few more things it’s doing well. Brooks is really good at not giving any one culture a monopoly on sympathy–there is no Land of the Progressives surrounded by Realms of the Backwards. In some sections of the book, more genders than are used in English are indicated by accent marks. I don’t envy Brooks’s copyeditor the job of checking all the pronouns for the correct inflection, but on the other hand they became intuitive very quickly and added realistic dimension to the cultural differences of the characters.
The fight scenes are strong enough to satisfy the most martial high fantasy fan–possibly stronger–and the magics (and the conflicting attitudes about them!) are interesting though so far well within genre tropes, but for me the strongest part of The Black Coast, and the reason why I would recommend it, is the relationships between characters with strikingly different worldviews, especially the ones who are trying, against all odds, to make a go of peace.