Definitely an improvement on the previous book. I prefer spending time meeting new and exciting societies to wandering the trackless wilderness, and I also appreciated the closer linkage to major world events. It feels like the series is starting to draw to a close.
A lot of the characterization felt thin, though. Laurence is fine, and Granby, and Roland gets one or two good scenes, but . . . there's a lot of characters here, for only a bit more than 300 pages, and many of them might as well be nameless for all the attention they get. I'd prefer a smaller cast and more personal growth. In particular, I spent the entire book desperately wishing they would just drop the sailors and abandon them, because they were 200+ characters who were adding absolutely nothing to my enjoyment. Yes, okay, I guess they came in handy at the end, but I'm still not sure it was worth the annoyance of bringing them there.