The opening is a fairly strong one as the wizard Baskrod attempts to warn the village of his disciple Amanki that there is going to be a party of warriors coming to massacre them all. They refuse to believe him because to speak against the Emperor is to speak treason. Worse, he's trying desperately to get Amanki to go but the boy doesn't want to abandon his family to certain death. The Emperor will do anything to prevent the prophecy and the early events of the book are extremely brutal, with a visceral core not found in most YA fantasy.
This is primarily a road trip book with Amanki slowly picking up a collection of followers that come from the various walks of life and races that inhabit this world. My favorite of these was the healer Manhera, who is slightly older than Amanki. I was actually intrigued by the relationship between Manhera and Amanki, which doesn't usually happen with the main couples of the fantasy books I read. Usually, the love affairs are so plainly spelled out there's no interest but the two grew upon me as did their relationship.
The book is a work of Christian fantasy, though not quite as obvious about it as Narnia, with many of the elements having shown up in stories of the Old and New Testament. Baskrod worships the One God Adon and this is something that has made him a threat. The Emperor is afraid of a prophecy of a star appearing in the sky. There's also ruthless purges he's conducting in order to thwart it ala Moses and Jesus. This may not be to the taste of some readers but it's done better than most.
The world-buidling is about how multiple people with various racial adaptations (like webbed feet) exist in areas nearby the Empire, which makes them targets due to the way the prophecy is framed. I'm not entirely fond of some of the names ("Mud Beasts" for the horrifyingly evil horsemen for example). The persecutions and slaughters of those different serve as a pretty clear moral, though, as does teaming up against such oppression.
This work s surprisingly violent for a Young Adult novel and while I've been surprised by adult content in those kind of books before, the gore is quite heavy. Limbs are cut off, people bleed to death, and the slaughter is depicted nightmarishly on page. It actually provides a good sense of the stakes involved but is surprising with the otherwise parable-like adventure series qualities.
In conclusion, it's a decent enough book that does suffer some minor flaws. The characters are a bit two-dimensional, albeit likable, and the plot goes from A to B. Still, I overall enjoyed my experience.