The story begins with Ruka having won a pyrric victory against Prince Kale of the Pyu Isles. Ruka and King Farahi had made a deal to destroy the latter's enemies in exchange for land. However, Kale had attempted to "liberate" the island with a combination of both magic as well as the neighboring islander's forces. As such, Ruka ended up losing many of his forces in a pointless war as well as two of the strongest allies. Worse, it is on the eve of a war with the Empire of Naran that dwarfs them in both size as well as resources.
I was really impressed with the decision to kill off a certain character in the previous book and said character becomes a ghost for much of the story, adding to Ruka's madness. Ironically, I felt that his "death" removed a great deal of his character development, though. Apparently, being a ghost makes you petulant and selfish. This is the only thing that I find to be a flaw in the book, though, that is an amazing Ruka continues his growth as a man who began as a savage cannibal to someone who is possibly the most educated as well as enlightened man in the world.
Unfortunately, Ruka's torment remains as his mind is increasingly split between the various personalities that exist in his head. He is best at slaughter, conquest, and destruction but must rely on unsteady allies in order to try to build something permanent. All of his increased intellect and learning can't protect his people from plague or the racism of the locals, though. Worse, he is terrible at maintaining alliances through anything but fear. He is a fascinating and tragic figure, making every page following him an interesting one.
I appreciate the writing of the women characters in the book as well with Kikay, Dala, and Lani all showing various sides that actually make them the most interesting characters in the book. Kikay proves to be a ruthless spymaster as well as enemy to Ruka, Dala tries to settle into the role she thought she wanted her entire life, and Lani attempts to deal with the fact that Kale was a well-intentioned idiot. I always appreciate having strong female characters and this book has developed some really good ones.
This is a book full of action, intrigue, politics, world-building, and fascinating characters. I don't think that there's a book nearly as good as this out there from the indie scene right now. Something that I don't say lightly. The story leans heavily on Ruka but it doesn't exclude the development of other characters like the previous book did. We even get some development of the Naran Empire that looms as a threat above everything.