This was basically everything I look for in a book: dense, atmosphere writing; a broad cast of flawed characters occasionally at cross-purposes but all meaning well; a plot that flings you into a set of established relationships and settings without a roadmap and lets you work out answers for yourself. And yet it didn't, quite, work for me. I think part of the problem was that the city never really came alive for me as a place; what started out as mysterious hints about its culture and history and diplomatic relations all more or less ended as mysterious (and irrelevant) hints, because ultimately the story's focus is very narrow indeed. I wanted to see more, to understand why the city's destruction would be a loss to the world, to empathize with those who died as people and not as statistics. (The protagonists are people, of course, but they make up a very narrow subset.)
There are also interesting things with gender going on here, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about them. On the one hand, this is a world in which power largely lies in the hands of women, and the men spend a lot of time pining, neglected and abandoned for duty and other loyalties. On the other hand . . . this is a book concerned with the actions of the powerless, which means that after putting all the power in the hands of women it promptly spends almost all of its pages on the men. Also, while the male protagonists survive the female protagonists largely don't--and at least one death seems to happen entirely to provide angst for her lover. I like
those men, but it still felt like a bit of a double-cross to be introduced to all these interesting women and then promptly spend almost no time with them.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the book, but I'm hesitant to recommend it. I will be seeking out the author's later work, though.