This is the second of a six-part series of connected stories set in the same world, but it reads well enough as a stand-alone, with just enough backstory to remind those who read the first book, without overloading the present story.
The lead characters (Hadrian and Royce) are the same, as is Arista, the sister to the abducted prince from book 1, and Esrahaddon, the thousand year old wizard, also has a starring role. The plot is similar nonsense - a village under attack from a strange monster, a magical elven tower which has to be entered, somehow, to retrieve a magic sword, as well as a scheme by the church to create another emperor. But somehow it is less entertaining than the first book, with too many side characters and a lack of anyone we can really believe in. The peasants, in particular, are poorly drawn, having not an ounce of common sense between them. Thrace is particularly irritating.
There is also a great deal of mythology thrown at us this time - some history of the elves and the last emperor and the heir - which is not uninteresting in itself, but it comes in such large chunks that it slows the action down drastically. But the elven tower (the Avempartha of the title) is beautifully described, and I suspect there will be more contact with the elves in future books.
The writing style can be irritating, with Americanisms like 'tarp' and 'bleachers' and 'font of wisdom', colloquialisms like 'glass half full', and silly typos like the 'sight' of a battle and 'ringing' out wet clothes. The author has also never been introduced to the pluperfect (or past perfect) tense - 'They had done such and such...'. These things are no big deal, and many readers will never notice them, but they cause those who do to drop abruptly out of the author's created world.
Having said all that, the book is still an enjoyable romp, easy enough to read without worrying too deeply about the twists and turns of the plot, and with a satisfying ending which also has a few intriguing loose ends to be explored in the rest of the series. And we learned a few interesting things about Hadrian and Royce too. 3 stars. [First written March 2011]