Much as with the last book I reviewed, Misha Handman’s Shadow Stitcher, I had an unexpected experience with this book. While that book had several strikes against it from the outset, but turned out well, this book had several things going for it. Mainly, I’d read the first two books in the series, An Exchange of Hostages and Prisoner of Conscience, when they first came out in the late 90s. I liked them, mostly; they were well written and unusual. I didn’t have ready access to bookstores for a year or two after that, but every now and then I’d think about picking up the next in the series. Now, I’m glad I didn’t.
I came into this book familiar with the general context and some of the characters, and I figured I’d find my feet pretty quickly. I was looking forward to an interesting read. Neither of those turned out to be correct.
Much to my surprise, I found this book a chore to read almost from the start. While Matthews does her best to provide a ‘what has gone before’ summary, it simply underlined for me that it was late to step into the series, even with a pretty good grounding in books 1 and 2. Much more to my surprise, the prose isn’t strong (nor is the proofing). Worse, I’d lost interest in the book before I finished Chapter 1 – and it never got better. It was both too technical and too brutal. The book spends most of its time shifting between characters and detailing minutiae of what they’re doing, without much effort to tie the threads together. Even knowing some of the characters already, I found many of them effectively indistinguishable – they’re all effectively on all sides, all good and all bad. They constantly refer to each other, but not in a way that connects anything.
I had no real chance of following the strategies the various players follow – it mostly felt random, and often inconsistent. Halfway through the book, I still had no idea what it was about. I also didn’t much care; none of the characters was very engaging, and certainly none were sympathetic. Andrej Koscuisko, the hero of the first two books, is a key part of the ensemble, and everyone cuts him slack on all fronts, though it’s clear that he’s by now just as bad as any of the others who are criticized, and probably worse.
I found the book extremely hard to get through. The epilogue, oddly, is the smoothest, clearest, and most engaging part, but by then, it’s far too late. I’m not sure what happened to this series from the last time I saw it – or perhaps to Ms. Matthews, or to me. I was impressed with Matthews’ first books. Now, though, I’m glad that chance led me to get out of this series when I did. I’m certainly not planning revisit it again.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.