Read again? yes.
Book the 22nd with 4 to go before I'm done with the Valdemar books I've got...as compared to the Valdemar books Lackey has added in the last two days.
We pick up shortly after the end of the previous book. Grand Duke Tremane has been forced to consolidate his forces even further in the wake of ever-worsening mage storms which have rendered magic unreliable and near-useless.
Tremane has pulled the troops off the front lines and brought them to the small town of Shonor. He's got them fortifying both the Imperial encampment and the town to protect everyone from vicious creatures spawned by the storms.
There has been no word from the Emperor or the Empire. No orders to pull back, no support, no rescue. Tremane still half-wonders if the storms and his isolation are a test from the Emperor to see how he handles adversity. Or is it because the Empire has been rendered helpless itself as the storms tear all magic asunder?
He has no way of knowing, but keeping his men and the town safe and preparing them for the coming winter is more important. There's no going back to the Empire unless he marches his men through
hostile territory, first east across Hardorn, then through several
Imperial client states.
As the story progresses, he realizes that he's not preparing just for a single winter; he's setting up for a long stay.
Karal has been in Valdemar for a year. With his teacher and boss Ulrich murdered by Tremane's assassin, Karal now represents his home country of Karse in Valdemar. It's painfully clear to him, however, that no one really takes him seriously as an Envoy. He's too young, barely into his twenties. He has no experience in diplomacy. Unlike Ulrich, Karal isn't even a mage, so in his own opinion he's unable to help the Allies to solve the mage storms problem other than to take notes like the secretary he used to be.
He was instrumental in bringing Nerd Power to the mages in the first book--engineers, builders, mathematicians, scientists--scholars and their students who all would otherwise have been left out of the loop by the mages, who never would have thought to ask for a diagram of how the storm waves are interacting, let alone a timeline for when the Big Bang was coming. They've given the Allies an advantage that Tremane and the Empire lack: the ability to measure how the storms interact with the physical world. It soon becomes clear that for the next round of protection that will get us to the end of this book, the magical "breakwater" they set up at the end of the previous book will have to be expanded to include Hardorn.
Karal and An'desha team up to magically search for a contact in Hardorn, someone who can help the Allies in getting the expanded protections together. Their scrying leads them to...Grand Duke Tremane!
All Karal has to do is convince the Queen of Valdemar, his own boss the High Priestess of Karse, and the other allies to make an alliance with the man who ordered the murders of two Envoys and the attempt on two others. But first he must convince himself. Time is ticking: they only have till the end of the novel, just past Midwinter.
As in the first book, we're about 3/4 of the way in before Lackey is done setting up and maneuvering everyone to their places. The story is well-paced and doesn't drag, but by the time I'm done with the trio I won't be wanting more for awhile.
--In this second book, An'desha suddenly has cat eyes, a leftover from his possession by the spirit of an evil, near-immortal mage. When that spirit was destroyed two books ago, An'desha's Goddess gave him his body back, reversing Falconsbane's transformation into a man-cat. In the previous book, however, there's no mention of lasting changes other than white hair and silver eyes, which would be normal anyway for a powerful Adept mage.
--Early in this book, Tremane has his men building a high wall around his camp and the town of Shonor. Yet a few chapters later, he's thinking of how the town has no walls of its own, and how the residents will regret this fact.
--In the first book (and ONLY there), Tremane and the other Imperials refer to the Forty Little Gods; in the second and third, they invoke the Hundred or the Thousand Little Gods. I suppose this could be a proportion thing, with the Forty for less-extreme matters and additional Little Gods tacked on as needed to handle the larger work load. Tremane's gonna need the Thousand.
--In the first book, Tremane is pleased to have functional latrines that convert waste to fertilizer without using magic...but in this book he needs latrines!