An excellent conclusion to a truly impressive series.
You could probably read this on its own, but the experience would be much richer for having read the ones that come before – I recommend reading the whole series (4 books, each set 15 years apart.)
[A bitchy aside here – not enough of these were printed. I ended up having to get this one through interlibrary loan… why do publishers always do this!? (I know why, that is a rhetorical question. It’s just annoying.)]
As the book opens, the cities of the Khaiem and their rivals/enemies of the Kingdom of Galt have been thrown into a disastrous situation due to the actions of the andat (a kind of magical golem) at the conclusion of the previous book (An Autumn War). Fifteen years have passed, but the kingdoms, instead of working together (a solution which would ensure survival), have both weltered in bitterness and failure.
Now, both the Khai and his old friend/enemy/rival Maati each have a plan to save the lands of the Khaiem. However, the plans are completely mutually incompatible. Each works hard and desperately to convince others to make the compromises and sacrifices necessary for a scheme to work. Each is convinced of the rightness of his actions. But the reader sees that disaster seems inevitable.
At first, I had doubts about the book, because one of the main characters is operating on the premise that conclusions on a topic, if researched and created by women rather than men, will be utterly different, because men and women think so differently. I don’t agree. But Abraham deals with this deftly, and although gender politics are a large part of the book, his characters are all fully-realized individuals. Abraham is truly excellent at creating complex characters and multivalent relationships between them – one of my favorite things about this series is that it presents characters from different angles – it shows believably how people change, how one person can be seen differently by different people, at different times. The reader can’t trust that someone who seems to be a villain at one time will remain a villain.
In a vivid and unique setting, Abraham concludes a story which is difficult at times, thoughtful, and deeply satisfying.