This book had a much slower pace than I'm used to, nor do you see any magic first-hand until about 200 pages in. But it was worth it.
I learned a great deal of writing technique from this book, I think. I only hope I can retain it!
Her characterizations are flawless. I never doubted who is a main character, a secondary character, or a minor character. It's in very
close third, so close that Cazaril's thoughts are often reflected in the narrative itself (and not in italics).
At first I thought the plot was a bit meandering, but everything had its purpose in the end. I also like the subtlety of the gods in this book. Too many fantasy novels have them coming down and directly affecting so many things that one wonders how the characters have any purpose at all. The theology and the limitations of the gods are very well explained, though sometimes the characters doubt the gods' will and capabilities, as only makes sense.
Another interesting thing about the plot from a writer's perspective was the control of tension. Before the climax, all the tension completely disappeared. I almost felt like I was reading the denouement, though there were still quite a few pages left, which made me wonder what could happen next. When Cazaril reaches the Fox's stronghold and finds out the Lord Bergon is none other than the kid he risked his life to save on the galley, it seemed almost too easy. The tension briefly increased when they faced the ambush in the mountains. But then again, the royal wedding went off without a hitch, leaving me wondering what could possibly go wrong. The tension was very low at that point, and the fact that the shadow remained not only around Iselle but spread to Bergon confirmed my suspicions. At that point, I thought maybe that plot point might be resolved in a sequel, but no, they were under siege next. So it was interesting to me to see that the tension could take such a nosedive right before the climax, and still maintain my interest by making wonder what could possibly happen next, because it was all too easy!
I also liked the realism of the battles, particularly the one at the end (despite the supernatural happenings toward the end of it). Cazaril is too busy with his swordfight to know anything about what's going on around him. He doesn't know if the royal couple obeyed his command to run. He doesn't know if reinforcements have entered the courtyard to help him or if he's the only man left standing. When he tries to glance back, he pays for it. He has no idea what else might be taking place throughout the rest of the palace. All of these thoughts were running through his head even while he was fighting, but described in an expert way.
This is the first Lois McMaster Bujold book I've read, but it certainly won't be the last!