This book starts like a video game. Slate, who came from a small mining village, is fighting in a tournament against increasingly more difficult foes. Then he has to decide whether to join the fighters’, mages’, or thieves’ guild. He also gains abilities and magic items along the way. Slate doesn’t seem to have much agency, at least early in the book. He tends to just go along with what others tell him to do and gets by on luck.
This might sound like a complaint, but I actually enjoyed the story quite a bit. Being similar to a video game on a superficial level didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of reading it. Instead of just letting himself get swept along by others, Slate does start making decisions for himself later on and he often succeeds by thinking outside the box.
I also liked the magic system. It depends on dose and requires both a natural talent for it (spark) and a pattern to base it on. Magic has brought about a golden age of plenty to this world, but it can also be used for evil.
I like that incidental characters like guards are often female, however only one of the main characters is a woman. I also had a few more minor complaints. It seemed foolish when Slate and his friends decided to trust a madmen with their secrets. The Twice-Broken Wars are sometimes spoken of as if they took place in the distance past, but they occurred within the lifetime of some of the characters. I found it hard to believe people in this world were able to write such long letters in such a short amount of time. Also, there was one occasion in which a character kept things secret from another character for no apparent reason.
Again, it’s starting to sound like I didn’t like the story, when I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I loved the slowly unraveling mystery. The identity of the leader of the thieves and the identity of the main villain is kept secret until the end. I loved the character’s personalities. It’s full of action and is pretty funny in places. Overall, a joy to read.