Warnings: References of forced sterilization, violent sex and rape
By no accounts was this book perfect, but I'm willing to forgive a book a lot more if it makes me laugh. Right from the start the main character, Talyn, has a fantastic sense of humor that would have kept me interested in a much worse book. Talyn is a character I think most people can empathize with. She's straightforward, proud, and vivacious. Right from the first chapter I cared a lot for her, and I was emotionally invested in what happened to her.
Luckily, Talyn the book is a reasonably good piece of work, so there was very little to forgive. The plot is not at all what the first chapter leads you to expect, a routine war story. It's got fighting mind you, but that's not the book's strong point. In fact, it's for the best that the main focus of the storytelling it's a war, because the scenes which contained actual battles were a little lopsided. Instead Talyn's story takes you down a completely different track than a typical high fantasy war story, and I think it's all the better for it.
My biggest complaint with this book would have to be the ending. In fact, the last few chapters all feel a little haphazard, but the wrap-up was especially lousy. In Lisle's defense endings are the hardest part of a book for most authors, though. Still, I was disappointed by the sudden drop-off in quality.
Something that readers absolutely must be warned about is that this book doesn't shy away from sex. I find this to be a major plus, because I enjoy sexually liberated characters and raunchy jokes. Sex is by no means a major focus of this book, nor are the sex scenes terribly graphic. I just feel that if you're uninterested or unprepared to read about Lisle's forthright portrayal of sexual relationships, you might want to skip those portions of the book. Unless sex between a man and a woman, specifically rough sex, makes you very uncomfortable there is no reason to avoid this book!
The world Lisle creates is very interesting, specifically the conflict between the two nations in conflict, the Tonk Federation and the Eastil Kingdom. The entire book is spend in the Federation, a loose collection of city states united by their ethnicity (Tonk). Lisle favors the Tonks, which I don't mind terribly, because it's so rare for a egalitarian, chiefly society to be portrayed in as much detail in fantasy books. Usually the main culture is a kingdom (or kingdoms) and chiefdoms are on the fringes. The Tonk/Eastil magic system is equally unusual. The change in pace is refreshing.
There are a lot of good technical points in this book's favor, but I like it so much because it made me laugh, over and over again.