The story centers around Bragi Ragnarson, who, ten years ago, had defeated the Dread Empire. Things don't take long going from bad to worse as named characters get killed, kidnapped, and sidelined. The Dread Empire wants revenge for its previous defeat, and it's had ten years to amass legions. What begins with assassination and skullduggery ends in a knock-down, drag-out war with a body count in the millions.
Brutal, unmerciful, and containing almost no feel-good moments, this military fantasy answers the dorky question, "If wizards could do X, then why didn't they?" In this book, they do. The magics are fearsome and frightening, bypassing immoral and going straight for reprehensible.
Cook's writing has risen to the complexities of this work, finally bringing to fruition this idea of military fantasy. It's a frightening war combining the worse elements of medieval warfare with the worse elements of modern warfare.
The ultimate downfall of this book is that it bites off so much that it can't even pretend to chew it. This book could have been written as an entire series by itself, spread across four or five more books. The sheer amount of narrative condensation is unbelievable. Glen Cook's skills have risen considerably just to produce this work, but this military fantasy genre demands even more than Cook can achieve. For every prose problems that he's solved and mastered, he invents two new problems. The narrative often bogs down under the weight of its own ambition, requiring vast summaries just to bring the book in at a publishable word count.
If you like this sort of fantasy, this is worth a read. If you don't, it's going to turn you off.