This is a very ambitious book. Actually, it's a very ambitious two books. The problem is, in attempting to be both of them, it doesn't quite achieve either. And so I'm torn between giving it four stars (for what I think it could have been) and two stars (for what it kind of is). Guess I'm settling on three.
The back cover of this book implies that Shahar is the main character and that the book is at least in part driven by her romance with Sieh. Jemisin's blog somewhat explains this; an early draft of the book did
use Shahar as the main character, did
focus on the Arameri political collapse as its main plot.
But that isn't the book she ultimately ended up writing, and so I am baffled as to why the back cover text was left unchanged.
It is not a spoiler to say that Sieh is the main viewpoint character of the book. It is almost certainly a spoiler to say that the main romance in this book, inasmuch as there is one, is between Sieh and Dekarta, Shahar's twin brother. Sieh and Shahar have a fling early in the novel, have a falling out, and stay fallen out until the end, which implies they'll be reunited--in a threesome with Dekarta--after death.
I am not opposed to this plotline. I actually find this plotline much more interesting than a straight-up Sieh/Shahar romance. But I cannot help but think that there are going to be a lot of unhappy people who open this book expecting het romance and get an incestuous threesome focused on the m/m side instead. Marketing department, what were you thinking?
So, okay. The problem with this book--aside from the inaccurate back cover text, and there's no shortage of books with that failing--is that it tries to squeeze so much in that nothing gets properly developed. On the politics side, we get grand battle plans--but because Sieh, not Shahar, is the main character, we never get to see the council meetings and machinations, the explanations of what, exactly people hope to accomplish and how. On the romance side, Dekarta and Shahar are both under-developed characters, and it's unclear why Sieh falls for either of them. We're shown sex and expected to treat that as a sort of synecdoche for love.
There are things I like in this book--a lot of things I like. Sieh's struggle between childhood and fatherhood was gripping to me, as was the tension between him and Itempas. Young Dekarta and Shahar intrigued me (I'm just sad their adult equivalents didn't manage the same). I loved the little snippets we got of various Godlings that Sieh met with. But the parts failed to coalesce into a whole.