Nifty, I suppose, that the three major plotlines all end in failure, some more abjectly than others, for their principal protagonists. Especially fine that the quest for the numinous object ends up achieving nothing more than an explanation of the object's purpose, as well as providing the opportunity for sex and violence at the edge of the world. In these regards, this novel is an anti-Two Towers
Some explicit presentation of chains of causality are nice touches, though some may find a surfeit of telling and a dearth of showing.
Consider: "The fates of the men down in the valley had been set long ago. When Ladisla chose to cross the river. When Burr set upon his plan. when the Closed Council decided to send the Crown Prince to win a reputation in the North. When the great noblemen of the Union sent beggars instead of soldiers to fight for their King. A hundred different chances, from days, and weeks, and months before, all coming toegther here, on this worthless stretch of mud. Chances which neither Burr, nor Ladisla, nor West himself could have predicted or done anything to prevent" (238).
Or: "My victory is a loss for everyone in Dagoska, one way or another. Already the first fruits of my labours are groaning their last in the waste ground before the city gates. There will be no end to the carnage now. Gurkish, Dagoskan, Union, the bodies will pile up until we're all buried under them, and all my doing. It would be better by far if her scheme had succeeded. It would be better by far if I had died in the Emperor's prisons. Better for the Guild of Spicers, better for the people of Dagoska, better for the Gurkish for Korsten dan Vurms, for Carlot dan Eider. Better even for me" (250).
Or: "Bayaz took a long breath, and gave a long sigh. 'So, Master Quai. There is the story of my mistakes, laid bare. You could say they were the cause of my master's death, of the schism in the order of Magi. You could say that is why we are now heading westwards, into the ruins of the past. You could say that is why Captain Luthar has suffered a broken jaw" (330).
The novel perhaps beats the drum a bit too loudly in the quoted passages, above, but I appreciate the candor about the absence of human freedom in the narrative. Bayaz and Glokta are of course naive to think that they originate the chains of causality that they have described, but otherwise the points are well made.
The novel gets the prize for Best Sex Scene Dialogue:
'I was just getting started!'
'I did say it had been a long time--'" (405).
It's fun, lots of adrenaline, interesting character development among the several groups of seven samurai running around. Otherwise, maybe it doesn't all quite come together, maybe it's half a book, maybe I scratch my head at the end of it a bit, maybe the setting isn't developed very far, even after two volumes and 900 pages, and maybe the motivations of various groups are barely foreshadowed. Even if the volume didn't really do it for me, I am still digging the pithy barbarian guy. Perhaps the third volume will put paid to this one and allow me to revise my reading.
Recommended for closeted machiavels, fans of the scars scene in Jaws
(cf. 331 et seq.), and people who want to push aristocrats off cliffs.