First entry in a new trilogy set in the world of, and as a direct if long-awaited sequel to, the First Law trilogy (Last Argument of Kings, 2008, etc.).
There's nothing distinctive about the backdrop, being a fantasy-standard medieval Europe with magic and a developing industrial revolution. Nor the plot, which proves elusive and possibly unfathomable. The Northmen are invading the Union. (Again. It's what they do.) The Union may or may not be imperiled: Abercrombie spurns maps, so it's never clear which territories are part of it or where they lie in relation to one another. What matters are the details. Every scene features one or more memorably well-developed, convincingly lifelike characters. A desperate fugitive from pursuing Northmen, Rikke may have the second sight; tough hillwoman Isern is determined to help her survive long enough to find out. Battling the Northmen is reckless fighter Leo dan Brock. His mortal enemy is Stour Nightfall, whose father engages surly, insubordinate ex-warrior Jonas Clover to teach Stour how not be a total jerk. It's a thankless task. Savine dan Glokta, daughter of the feared chief inquisitor, nurtures a ruthless ambition to control large chunks of industry. Dissolute philanderer Prince Orso, Savine's secret lover, experiences vague urges to reform and do something useful while his father, High King Jezal, shows no interest in the looming conflict. Despite summary executions, the Breakers, an angry, Luddite-like group of dissidents and union organizers, are a growing force. Various mages may or may not be meddlesome. Some familiar faces return along with assorted offspring. It's a sprawling, often jarringly inchoate yarn with what seems like hundreds of moving parts, crafted by an author evidently keeping plenty of cards up his sleeve, so even fans of the previous trilogy will need their wits and memories intact.
Readers susceptible to Abercrombie's undoubted charms will become rapidly immersed.