What we get is our four protagonists -- now Marcus, Cithrin, Geder, and Clara Kalliam -- struggling each with their own pieces of a war. They all suffer damage. They all achieve some triumph despite the damage... except maybe Geder. Or maybe that is a bit of triumph after all. If so, Geder is so, so very hosed. But we knew that.
Wow, trying to review these books has turned into a choice between "recount the plot" and "talk about Geder". Let's talk about Geder. I wish I knew whether he was the best character portrait in modern fantasy or a cheap trick. I wish I knew this because it is so, so easy to see myself in him -- and I am prone to the belief that I am a cheap trick. Then he goes and plans some monstrosity with the same mildly satisfied air of any all-we-have-to-do-is social schemer -- you've read fannish political discussions, you know the type -- and raises his voice a bit to be heard over the screaming. Then he mentions the gaping holes in his life without even noticing that they're holes, and it is wrenching all over again. So yeah, the author has managed to garner my sympathy for a character that I swore would never get it.
Crap, Geder is a response to Ender Wiggin, isn't he. I'll have to think about this more. I still think his ultimate fate in the series is to be capable of learning better. Then he'll do something fractionally heroic and get killed without anybody ever finding out. That's my prediction. If it was worth anything, I'd be writing the books.
I was right about the uncertainty-of-history riff, though. Hoo boy. Watch for the kids playing Chinese Whispers ("Telephone") -- it's an unsubtle position statement. This, too, is humanist fantasy, only without the whimsy or the faith in forward social progress. And faith in a benevolent king-by-divine-right is obviously going onto the chopping block next volume. (The god-kings of this history are the dragons, and I hope you don't want them back.) So... Abraham better pull something optimistic out of his hat. I hope. Won't be until book five, though, so the next one will be grim.
PS: Yardem Hane -- too awesome to live, or too awesome to be real? In the context of this series, the question scares me.