In a lot of ways, this is where the series hits its stride. There's no longer the choppy, episodic feeling of the earlier books; everything flows smoothly, despite (perhaps because?) the fact that it's the first book to have three equal co-protagonists, three parallel stories. And there's still the fantastic set pieces: the forging of the queen's gold, Lionhall, the bridge. The ending scene, of course.
Also, it's the book where Lorn finally grows up, and he does so beautifully.
There's so much right about it that I can almost--almost--forgive the fact that the plot makes no. damn. sense.
I don't even know where to start. Freelorn wants to be king, and so rather than cultivate dissenters in his own country he invades with a foreign army? And, after he slaughters Arlen's troops, everyone is happy to welcome him on the throne the next day? Please tell me when in the history of humanity a political transition has worked this way.
These are feel-good, comfort reads, yes. They always have been. I don't need grit. But we couldn't have had Freelorn engaging in cloak and dagger diplomacy with the Arlene resistance instead of a grand battle? Herewiss makes cursory attempts to reach out to them, I guess, but with the intent of sounding out how they'll behave after
the battle--he makes no effort to avert it.
Arlen's troops keep fighting? At the time of the battle, Cilmond hasn't been seen in a day and is presumed dead. Why don't they just defect en masse--particularly the mercenaries, who must now wonder where their pay will come from? And yet, even after Rian turns the fyrd against them, they make no effort to surrender, to join forces with Darthen--and Darthen makes no effort to encourage them to do so.
I guess the answer could be, "Rian is mind-controlling all 10,000+ troops and also all the sorcerers." But that is a very boring answer. More generally, the book--the series as a whole--has a problem with plot-convenient magic; that is to say, its limits are what the plot requires at any given moment. Nowhere is this more evident than with Freelorn's final transformation, which doesn't kill him. . .because? Because it would make Herewiss sad, I guess.
Speaking of Rian, why his obsession with finding one of Freelorn's children to act as a "clockwork king" maintaining the royal rites? He wants, quite blatantly, to destroy the world; why is he also so concerned about preserving it?
And, man, all those chapters about convincing the dragons to join Darthen--which was cool, don't get me wrong! I like the bits with the dragons!--and they show up for one paragraph, kill some fyrd, and promptly meet an enemy they can't fight. Okay, that's not a plot hole: it's just anticlimactic.
But I love it anyway.