Review copy provided by the publisher.
This is a sequel to The Helm of Midnight, and I’m a lot more ambivalent than I usually am about whether you can read it first. Probably? The beginning has a short but thorough explanation of what’s gone before. And also…the focus has shifted a lot, compared to what you usually see in second books. All the elements are here, but which ones are background and which are of primary interest seem to have shifted significantly to me, rather than only progressing with the plot. (More monster. So much more monster focus.)
So…stand-alone? almost? Well, no: the ending is very much a middle book ending. Either that or it’s a horrifying ending–think Han Solo in carbonite, the end good talk–so if you’re looking for a stand-alone fantasy, this is not it.
If, however, you’re looking for a really classically structured genre fantasy, this ticks all the boxes. Taxonomies of magic and humans and gods and monsters! Really wicked adversaries, vivid protagonists trying the best they can! Mazes of secret passages while horrible deeds are taking place. Mysteries of identity and fate and family. Twists on what you thought you found out from the book before. Sometimes you really want a fantasy novel that hits the brief, and this one very much does. (So does its predecessor.)