Nutshell: adherents to eponymous province sous rature
stage unlikely coups d'etat.
Inadequate perspective discipline produces a narrative told from the points of view of conquering war criminals, revanchist aristocrats, peasant conspirators, and so on.
Elric-style interlude in chapter 11 (328-66), wherein sidekick protagonist, apparently engaged in some sort of nocturnal (e)mission, gets involved with some random heretics to ward off a threat to the world. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the coups d'etat plot, until the catastrophe, when the heretics show up and do something nondescript yet dispositive. It's emblematic of the whole, which is something of a mess. The interlude does get sidekick laid.
None of this is to say that the novel's not smart, or not well written at the sentence level. Kay is nothing if not deliberate, introspective, precise. The central conceit--liberation of a conquered region and redress for a state subject to writing sous rature
--is well conceived. That said, deliberate at times becomes ponderous, introspective develops into obsessive, precise transforms into picayune. The erasure is limited to amnesia and aphasia. Probably much more could've been done with it.
The liberation is presented more or less as a fait accompli
; ruling class protagonist with sidekick has, it seems, worked for several decades to set up the coups d'etat of the catastrophe. None of the setup is really shown, except for some carousing with politicized tavern-goers. Mostly it's travelling, chatting, some of the old in-and-out on occasion. The coups are accomplished through manuevering the two conquerors into a confrontation that bleeds them both, so that two coups de grace may be delivered at the price of one. As noted, it's all very unlikely--and requires the intervention of a third state as the condition of possibility, also presented as a given, without any work-up as to why or how or whatever.
This edition of the text is not aided by the author's afterword, which equates the erasure sorcery to Soviet memory hole politics (674) and suggests that one of the conquerors is "a crude, efficient Politburo survivor," whereas the other is Borgia (675-76). It's a confusion of anachronisms, with some arriere garde sensibilities. The communist connection is not borne out, as the property forms are thoroughly feudal. It is telling that feudal "freedom" is juxtaposed against communism.
Sorcery is a mixed bag. It's strong enough to erase the memory of a province from all persons other than natives of the province, but is otherwise shown as either brutally visceral ("he moved his right hand, in exactly the same casual gesture he would use to dismiss a servant or a petitioner. [Her] head exploded like an overripe fruit" (223)) or Tolkienesque abstraction (the "spell began to leak through...kept coming and coming, monotonous as rain or surf...[they] began to feel as though they were fighting uphill, even on a level plain, as if the sun actually was fiercer above their heads than the men they fought, as if their confidence and courage were seeping away" (630)). Ultimately, none of it matters, and it boils down to sticking people with the pointy end.
Some reviewers have suggested that there may be some fascist ideology bouncing around in here. There is certainly irredentism, nationalism, revanchism, militarism, parallel public & private organs, blood & soil, authenticity of emotional response, arbitrary penal dispositions, despotism regarding property, and so on. We might consider the erasure of a country and its replacement by another to be the essence of Lemkin's definition of genocide. This is presented as the central crime of the novel, though. But: the criminal is presented as also a sympathetic figure at times, through the eyes of one of his harem slaves, who adores him. (Yeah, it gets that kind of ugly.) I'd suggest that, though there's fascist bits, the text appears nostalgic for medievalism proper, rather than ubernostalgia for the nostalgia for medievalism present in fascism.
That we should be made to sympathize with an aristocrat who enslaves people (287) in order to reclaim the Land should blip our radar. That we should be made to like another aristocrat who fakes his own death and lets his own homosexual son die pointlessly for his cause (i.e., his property and reputation), and then dons blackface, should likewise raise our antennae. Several manipultaive fake protagonist deaths serve no purpose other than to build ersatz suspense and allow the other characters to engage in passionate laments. In Herf's terms, we might note some means-ends miscalculations in the protagnists' plan, a marker of proto-fascism, but that's no good overall because the plan works, against all sense. The denouement implies, first, that aristocrat protagonist will unite the whole under a new monarchy, in order to effectively defend against the other geopolitical power blocs. The point of the story, to liberate the occupied provinces and return them to their feudal "freedom," seems to cut against that grain. It's national unity, solidarity of classes working against foreign menaces, and so on. Not my thing, to be honest.
Second, though, the ending suggests something beyond the boundary of the narrative, through the bizarre overlay of slavic mythology--the rusalka reiterates throughout the novel, with some sort of shruggable prophetics. Dunno about that, except that it portents change, death, and so on (245-46). It's enigmatic and coy and annoying.
Considered a classic, so likely should be read by speculative fiction people.