Orbit, 2013, 497 pages
The great war cannot be stopped. The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it. Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul.
Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can foresee.
In the third book in this five book series, the story of Geder Palliako, Cithrin Bel Sarcour, Clara Kalliam, and Marcus Wester continues. These four POV characters who've been around since the first book continue on their independent but intertwined stories, as the kingdom of Antea, now led by Geder Palliako as Lord Regent, begins conquering the world.
Geder, who since the first book has been developed as a case study in just how evil a self-justifying little man who never meant any harm but also never learned to take responsibility or deal with failure can be, continues to find reasons to keep expanding the borders of the Antean empire. When his generals expect a summer campaign and the troops back in time for fall harvest, Geder announces that they'll be continuing through the winter. When they think he's going to fight a defensive action against neighboring kingdoms, he decides to conquer them instead. And when cities are conquered, with the help of the priests of the spider goddess and their uncanny mental abilities, Geder cold-bloodedly announces a policy of taking all the children in the city hostage, and killing those who aren't turned over. All with the intention of preventing further bloodshed, all explained away as a necessary measure until they've rooted out the "corruption" that began with the attempt on the young prince's life, all with Geder insisting that he doesn't want to cause suffering. And indeed, he doesn't. He just doesn't feel bad about any of his decisions because in his mind, it's always someone else's fault when things go badly.
Cithrin, the poor girl who made the mistake of sleeping with Geder once and thus becoming his love-struck object of obsession, observes towards the end of the book that he's "a terrible person, and yet not," and wishes she could have a conversation with the best part of him. To which Yardem, the loyal Tralgu warrior who's been by her side along with Marcus Wester since book one, points out that we might wish that of anyone.
As Antea continues its conquests, Marcus Wester and the apostate priest Kit go on a quest for a magical sword to kill the spider goddess. This, being such a cliched epic fantasy quest, is not the most interesting part of the book, though I was unsurprised when it didn't end the way cliched epic fantasy quests are supposed to.
Clara Kalliam becomes more interesting as she begins her own schemes to undermine Geder Palliako while saving the empire. She's a disgraced noblewoman who's still skilled in all the arts of court ladies - gossip, intrigue, diplomacy, favors, and she's moving in different circles now.
This is the halfway point of the series. It wasn't a let-down, and while there were some slow chapters, the ending, in which the magic of the setting is amplified a bit, made up for it. I'm plowing through these books, wanting to read the entire series.
Also by Daniel Abraham: My reviews of The Dragon's Path and The King's Blood.
My complete list of book reviews.