It is said that there are eight words you don't want to hear in regards to a work of prose, and there are eight words I wish to say about this work, "I don't care what happens to these people." The entire book has been a slog, the first chapter failed to grab me, and by the time I was an eighth of the way through the book I was already in full blow darkness induced audience apathy.
Starting with the overarching conflict, one the one side we have the Cythonians. Drow expies, forced to live underground after they lost a war against an invading force nearly two millennia ago. They're a theocratic society of grey-skinned underground slaveholders, bent upon the complete and total destruction of the surface peoples. The surfacers aren't any better, the ones we're shown are conniving, whiny, stupid, self-destructive gits, and apparently their ancestors pulled the whole "befriend the natives and then betray them and attempt to wipe them out man, woman, and child" shtick. They also get bonus points, because apparently a thousand plus years ago they gave 144 hostages to the Drow and then never ransomed them back, and by the time of the story the official explanation for that is the Pale (slaves) have bonded with the evil Cythonians and love their masters, and are the cause of all the evils on the surface, failed crops, eruptions, plagues.
The secondary antagonists, as a lot, are not nice people. This point is hammered home nonstop through petty cruelties at any and every given opportunity. If they so much as smell a dog they are drawn to it, and proceed to kick said puppy with all the self control of a five year old left unattended in a chocolate factory. The primary antagonist is just as bad, but for an entirely different reason. Despite being an all but immortal wraith, who has spent the last 1700 years of his existence plotting his revenge, and also being able to cause glaciers to slowly but inexorably sweep down upon the up-worlder's civilization, thus being only a couple of centuries from wiping them off the face of the planet anyway, has pinned all his hopes on "black pearls," magical constructs of unimaginable might, that must be grown to maturity in the bodies of human hosts. His plan, 1700 years in the making, is derailed because he never expected his last host to be able to rebel against a lifetime of slavery and her inevitably untimely death.
The protagonists also fail to inspire anything from me, with the possible exception of a slight distaste. Tali, the host of the fifth and last macguffin, is an escaped Pale slave, who alternated between every protagonist trait I've ever seen, more or less at random. I truthfully can't tell you what her personality is, despite the fact that the author has told the reader that she's a "strong-willed" person with a "caring heart." Next up is Rix, carrier of the blade that laid the wraith low during it's life as the one true king, a whiny twit with a heart of gold, who overcame a lifetime of being told that the Pale were sub-human race traitors in lesss than a dozen pages. Well shucks folks, why does America still have problems like Fergeson if it's that easy to fix... It wasn't even good racism either, it was like some over the top, what someone whose never been to a Klan rally thinks happens at Klan rally bulls**t. Our third protagonist, and designated love interest for Tali, is Toge (Or something, I really can't remember, despite reading through the book...) a mage with a dark and troubled past. He's a cynic who believes in living in the now and chasing after fleshly delights like today is his last, at least until the plot gets rolling, at which point he buckles down and becomes just another whiny twit. Or last protagonist, though I think a better term for her is team mascot, is Rannilt, a plucky former slave girl with the power of heart. She's ten, and doesnt really say or do all that much other than provide a couple of deus ex machinas or talk about how she loves all of her friends.
Finally the author has sinned greviously against the English language, creating such foulnesses as "chymie" for chemical, "chymistry" for chemistry or alchemy, and "pothecky" for apothecary. Though the term "magick" or "magik" were notably absent, praise be to Shub-Niggurath, Mother of a Thousand Young, instead replaced with "magery" which never failed to bring to mind buggery whenever its presence graced a page. His sins, unfortunately, didn't stop there. Whenever one of the Drow, designated bad guys that they are, did something that could be construed as nice or noble, he made sure to have Tali there, so that her internal monologue could beat us upside the head with the fact that apparently not everyone in any particular race is evil, and some can be noble or kind.
I will finish this review with the statement that the story does have redeeming features, and that Mr Irvine doesn't seem to be a bad writer, but I don't think morally grey conflicts are where his particular skills lie. I feel like an eeditor asked him to make a bog standard fantasy epic darker and edgier, because that's what the kids want these days, and he just couldn't find the right balance to make the story readable.
Final Verdict: Skip