I thought this was a sequel to 'Anvil of the World', but it's actually a prequel, telling the story of the parents of 'Anvil''s protagonist.
My first thought, starting the book, was that it was much too earnest. The tale of an innocent agrarian society living in Edenic peace until attacked by violent slavers wasn't bad, but also wasn't what I was expecting. 'Anvil'' was just much funnier.
But as the book progressed, I was caught up by the story of Gard, a foundling raised by the peaceful Yendri who, regardless of their nurture, grows to be a fighter, insistent on pursuing retribution against the oppressors of his people. His journey takes him through a variety of scenarios, from slave to gladiator to laborer to actor to Demonic Dark Lord. Around the time when he becomes an actor, it begins to get funny again. By the time the story ends, I was like, "yep, this book is awesome."
It also prominently features Balnshik, the demoness from 'Anvil,' who is just a great character.
So sad that there won't be any more books set in this world... the loss of Kage Baker is such a tragedy.