|Just enough so that the cover art isn't wholly misleading.|
If you are like me, you'll keep reading just to find out more about the world. McKinley blends familiar aspects of our own history with fantasy tropes, subverting both in the process and crafting a world both accessible and regularly surprising. Unfortunately, if you are like me, you will also look up at some point and realize that three quarters of the book have gone by with barely anything happening in the story. It all feels like set up with no pay-off; like the first third of a bunch of stories, bundled together and stretched out into a full novel. Each story has its climax, of course, but some of them feel forced, like they were tacked on simply because the book was ending. Two of the climaxes are simply twists that set up further conflict for the next book, and two of them involve previously established characters that have made the switch to cartoonishly evil villains simply to provoke a violent confrontation. Moreover, even though the book is pretty long, it feels like every story gets shortchanged, with the narrative dipping in just enough to show how things have progressed before jetting off to another corner of the world.
Story problems aside, I'll be grabbing the next book in the series - The City of Ice - when it comes out late 2016 or early 2017. But would I recommend it? If you like worldbuilding, give it a read, but if you're expecting a gripping story, it's probably safe to pass this one up.
The more in-depth and spoilerific review is below, so if you want to read it and hate spoilers, go no further.