This book continues with our four protagonists: Marcus (old soldier), Cithrin (young banker), Geder Palliako (shy, bookish sociopath), and Lord Dawson (aristocratic patriot and jerk). With Master Kit (apostate) as an occasional look-in. Life in the Empire is going to hell in a hurry; we follow this trend from the various viewpoints. Each of the story arcs progresses nicely or surprisingly, and some (though not all) of them intersect in various ways.
The interesting question to discuss here is: what game is the author playing? Several games, of course, starting with "write a bunch of engaging dialogue and exciting scenes that will carry the reader along." But beyond that?
In the large, we seem to have a developing argument for why the spider goddess and her priests are bad news. The first book's prologue tagged that with a big "looky here", and set forth executioners with poisoned swords, followed in short order by creepy mind-influencing powers and an apparent yen for world domination. This book, if I may be a bit spoily, continues on interesting lines: the spider priests, obsessed with truth and conviction, are inherently biased towards fanaticism -- both in themselves and in others. Furthermore, they are biased against the written word (since they can only detect spoken lies). I think this is building to a full-on collision with modernity -- personal, face-to-face power is unable to encompass the world of written law, written history, written contract and commerce. It is no wonder that the counter-thread in this series concerns a bank.
Beyond that, we clearly have the business of unreliable history and subjective viewpoints. The characters in this book see common events (and each other), and interpret them differently, over and over. But -- the narrative's lading varies, and here's where I become unsure.
Marcus and Cithrin are straight-up protagonists. Both make mistakes and neither is a paragon -- we learn more about Marcus's nasty past in this book, and Cithrin, as people repeatedly point out, is a fraud and an extortionist. But they are nowhere near the line that makes an antihero. (Does anybody see Cithrin as anything other than triumphantly resourceful at the end of book one?) Their chapters show us their viewpoints, some of which turn out to be false views, and this is fine; this is the game of subjectivity and tight-third-person.
Then we have Dawson, who can be admirable by parts, until he (or his tight-third-person) reminds the reader that he's a racist, sexist, class-mired ass who has barely been kept civilized by a lifetime of pressure from his way-smarter-than-him wife. (Clara, you may be interested to know, is promoted to first-class POV by the end of this book.) And then we have Geder, who is continuously awful; his tight-third is a litany of "yes, dear reader, this man is a goddamn idiot".
But that isn't the same game, is it? If Abraham is trying to garner our sympathy for Geder, he's been failing dismally since That Scene In Book 1, and I don't know why he's still trying. Geder's POV is clear but it's wrong, all the time. No subjectivity in that, see? I think the closest we get to a sympathetic moment is when Geder lies to a woman so that she'll like him more.
And then we have the spider priests, who are unequivocally creepy, all the time. Even when seen from Geder's POV. He trusts them, but the narrative can't manage to.
If the point is to riff on the uncertainty of history, I don't know where all of this is going. Geder isn't going to turn out to be secretly a good guy, and the spider goddess isn't going to turn out to be benevolent. (If I have to come back and eat those words after book 3, I'll be really impressed, mind you.) If the point is to see people's mistakes from the inside, Abraham is running about 2.5 out of 4.
I suppose Geder might turn out to be capable of learning. Honestly that's the only motive I can imagine for his storyline at this point.
Anyhow. That's a boatload of analysis for a book that I blasted through on the basis of good dialogue and exciting scenes. Will keep reading series.