This book rocks. It's adeptly written. The world lives and breathes, as do the characters. If I hadn't already set up the rest of my TBR list through the rest of the year, I'd be going straight onto the next book.
In many ways, this first book is a coming of age story for the waterless boy who was once known only as Shale and for the almost-courtesan Terrelle. From the beginning, I was terrified the author would track into horrifying territory with the child courtesan, yet Terrelle deftly avoids her fate... and winds up out of the frying pan and into the fire. Or so it would seem. And poor Shale's life is none too easy either.
The magic of the stormlords is intriguing, but even more intriguing is the mysterious magic the water painters seem to have... Unfortunately, most of those mysteries aren't revealed in this book, but you come to learn enough to whet your appetite for more books.
This is also one of the best romantic subplots I've ever seen, by which I mean, it doesn't do all the annoying stuff romance novels do. Ryka and Kaneth's dialogue is so realistic, the conflict so tragic. And yet it never overwhelms the main plot or steals focus from the actual story. Nor are there any embarrassingly graphic love scenes to skim while reading in public. (I like to read on my lunch breaks, thankyouverymuch.)
Torture warning: There are a few graphic descriptions of an infant's death and a man being tortured. But she kept the descriptions of the man's torture fairly contained compared to what she could've done. Oftentimes it's the other characters thinking about the dead/injured and the aftermath that's more gruesome. No rape in this book, thankfully.
Most of the plot resolves itself by the end, but yes, it's definitely a cliffhanger in many regards. Not because plot lines are unresolved, but because even bigger wheels have begun to turn. And you're left wondering whether certain secondary characters are still alive. So if you absolutely hate cliffhangers, don't read this book until you have the second in hand.