Fantasy stories take place in wonderful, magical worlds full of wizards and thieves, heroes and villains. In the end, the hero always manages to overcome all odds and save the day. David Dalglish takes normal fantasy stories, strips them of everything pure and decent, stabs them in the heart repeatedly, and then punches them in the face for good measure. There are no heroes in David Dalglish books - only characters who are slightly less evil than others.
Occasionally, there will be a character who can be viewed as "good" who is introduced to the story. In those cases, the character will be devastated and broken by the end of the story, if they don't end up dead. Sometimes they are devastated and broken, and THEN killed.
The thief guilds who started the war are evil. Not to paint the merchant guilds that the thief guilds are fighting against as the good guys in this story - they're just as evil as the thief guilds are. The king isn't quite evil, he just doesn't care about his subjects...which can be seen as an evil in and of itself, as he's allowing the war to claim thousands of casualties without stepping in to do anything at all. Haern is the closest thing this story has to a hero, though even he goes around murdering to solve all of his problems.
The story is very contained. It all takes place in the same city, so the story doesn't have to break off and describe constantly changing scenery. Because of this, a lot more time is spent on the cast of characters, in all of their terrible, monstrous glory. That was actually something I appreciated. It means that even though there are several characters the story focuses on, each one gets his or her due attention, which doesn't work as well when the author also tries to throw in several locations, and various plot elements. There is one setting. There are two plots - the story of the war, and of Haern's steps toward redemption. And with that, the story can take its time and focus on the important players.
The ending of the book dragged on a bit. I was starting to wonder if it would ever end, and if it did, where the story could possibly go in the sequel. When the ending finally came, it wasn't what I had expected it to be, and it left enough characters alive and well to cast the sequel just fine.
This is definitely a very dark fantasy story. When I was reading the first Half-Orcs book, I felt it wasn't too bad - terrible things happen to the characters in the story, but it's still not anything to really cringe at. It's a book you could probably let a teenager read. Not quite so with this series. This one isn't so bad, but I've started the second one...and somehow, the second manages to get much darker than this one. But, I'll save that for the next review.