There are minor spoilers in this review, but they are discovered in the first book either early on, or are predictable in the course of things for any seasoned reader (particularly fantasy).
This is fantasy novel set in the fictional land of the Winter Kingdoms where there are Mages, Empowered Kings, and spirits more than able to affect there environment. Tris (Martris) is trying to recapture his old Kingdom from his murderous, treacherous brother Jared and his Evil Blood Mage advisor (when are they ever good?) Foor Arontala. Also, Tris is the Mage heir to his Grandmother Bava K'aa, one of the strongest spirit mages in memory.
As with most Fantasy, the plot is like a labyrinth, and you find yourself thrown into so many different plots, subplots, relationships and characters that it can be hard to keep it all straight. Thankfully, none of them have overly similar names and I didn't find myself too confused. Yet since I started this months after the first one (I got it at Christmas last year), I didn't remember the details which did have a negative effect at the start. I was interested enough not to just give up, but I was a bit confused at the start.
Another thing with the plot is that, despite only being the second book in this series, it was the conclusion from the last book. "Er- what? This is book two right?" were the words in my head since I'm not used to this kind of thing. Again, it didn't draw away from the book, only left me mildly confused.
I'm of two minds of the romance in this book. Part of me says that it is quite a realistic love, since it is neither too obvious nor the only thing in the minds. The characters kind of feel that romance is a dangerous thing to pursue with the current predicaments and their quest. I like that reluctance and the threat to the romance. Yet I dislike the tendency in high fantasy for characters to pair off with one another in much to obvious combinations. It doesn't make them bad match-ups, but it questions whether or not it was meant to happen, or is just sticking to norms.
The world of this book, and the different states and factions in the story make for interesting reading. We're always told a faction's history and it (thankfully) doesn't feel like a lecture from the author. The knowledge is given in a way the character would need to give it to react and work with the people present. Of course, the downside is that sometimes we can forget who works for who and who used to work for who. Fantasy characters (particularly the 'guide' character) always seems to have many fingers in many pies and there is always someone to recognise the new character introduced.
Magic is fine, but hardly special- besides the spirit mages. There are different types of mages- the Elements and then Spirit as well, I think (I'm not sure if healer is a sub-division or a separate branch)- and the elementals (Fire, Land, Air, Water) are mostly unexplained and just go about their business. It makes sense, since even though it matters a little, we don't need to know every mechanic of magic. The only real thing we know is that all magic is powered by the Flow, and magical ability depends on closeness to it. Also, the flow is usually in balance (giving light mages power) but dark magic upsets it. The Light/Dark element is another thing: basically summed up in saying that Dark mages do what they want, while the Light ones ask for permission or avoid death. Nicely black and white, not grey.
As I said, Spirit is the most interesting. Tris is a spirit mage, meaning he can bind, harness and release spirits. He has the basic magic abilities as well (like energy strikes, telekinesis) but his unique ability is converse with spirits and give them the power to be free to go to the afterlife, or finish their business. It sounds dull, but reading it and seeing its effect is quite powerful. I'm quite fascinated by death (as Humans are wont to be considering its the final major event of life) so I guess an idea that one can make oneself remain for any reasons or that one person could access the dead for power if amazing. Since everyone dies, the power is limitless and is a true force to be reckoned with. But of course a light mage only accesses this power should the spirits allow it.
A final thing is the religion in fantasy. I adore how, in fantasy, the gods are present and can be seen and interacted with in some ways. Here, there is one god who takes 9 forms, each with a dark and light side, giving a total of 18. There is also a relinquished 19th form: the formless one. Tris interacts with the Lady more than others since he is so close the world of spirits, and I like seeing that these powerful elements are present but never intervening. It just adds a certain something.
So this was a perfectly fine book. If you're not a fantasy reader, it probably isn't worth getting because it's not the jaw-dropping fantasy that will leave a good impression, it's just a satisfying read. If you are a fantasy reader though, there's no harm in picking up book one and just enjoying an entertaining but unremarkable fantasy.