After a nicely intriguing start, this one drops straight into all the things I disliked about it the first time round - unbelievable plot devices, lazy world-building, unconvincing characters and clunky dialogue. Thrace is particularly off-kilter. I can see what the author was aiming for, but (as with Myron) he has created a character whose total innocence of the wider world is simply not credible. Both Thrace and Arista, the two main female characters, come across as helpless creatures, simply being manipulated by other characters (Esrahaddon or Saldur), or else getting into trouble and needing rescue. Both women spend a considerable amount of time here either unconscious (Thrace) or a prisoner (both of them) or behaving stupidly (again, both of them), acting as motivation for the men. Ugh. Yes, I know things improve in later books, but still - ugh.
And the plot seems even sillier than the first time I read it. Even if you can buy into the peasants grubbing round in the mud, with a few pigs and goats and not much else (and it stretches credibility), why on earth would they sit around waiting to be taken by the dragon-like thingy? Even if they don't want to leave, why not build stone houses? Why not build a communal shelter where they can all sleep safely? Why not build an underground shelter? Just sitting in their (mostly wooden) houses waiting to be grabbed makes zero sense. And given the size of the uninhabited forest, there must be some other bit of it they could plough up, further away from the beastie.
But all that aside, the main feature of this book is the mysterious elven tower of Avempartha, and for me it was the star of the show. Firstly, the puzzle of getting into it, then Royce's awed wander through the interior and the really cool 'artistic visions' room - it was all terrific stuff. It was a pity we didn't get to 'see' some of the outcome of Esrahaddon's attempt to find the heir, which could have been done without revealing anything, but never mind. Also good: the river, Magnus the dwarf, Royce and Hadrian (of course), and Mauvin and Fanen, with an honourable mention for the bloke with the catapult thingy (a bit of initiative - wonderful!). I don't see any reason to change my three star rating, but nevertheless this is a good read (as long as you're not expecting great literature). [First read March 2011]