Just wanted to pop in with a positive review of something that I rather enjoyed lately. My taste in fantasy literature has changed a bit over time. While I still love the days of yore recalling high fantasy novels with epic champions fighting super evil bad guys, sometimes you just need to diversify.
Couple this with the fact that its taken GRRM a while to finish his last novel, and I was fishing around for something fantasy based to read. I looked around a lot of descriptions and even tried out a few different series before I finally settled on a book that really grabbed my attention and held it.
The Union is an almost Renaissance feeling culture that is an amalgamation of smaller kingdoms of the past. They fought a southerly empire in their recent past, and are on the verge of fighting northern barbarian types unified under a new, ambitious king. The Union was first put together by a powerful meddling wizard, that modern Union citizens consider a myth.
The Union, in general, isn't a place where people believe in magic, and as a whole, the culture is atheist. Despite this fact, there is an Inquisition that uses lots of religious terminology that is dedicated to preserving the safety of the kingdom.
While there isn't the web of ever widening interesting characters that the SOIAF books have, the core characters are interesting, but none of them really qualifies as your typical hero. Lots of flaws, some politics (though less, again, than SOIAF), and some brutal combat.
In the end, the characters were compelling and fun, despite some serious flaws in some of the protagonists. If it helps, from other books I've read, this book falls somewhere between GRRM's books and Glenn Cook's Black Company books. But I have to admit, while this book is certainly not upbeat, it manages to have some of the cynicism and visceral feel that the Black Company books have, without the constant resignation and malaise that seems to permeate Cook's books.
If you might like a book where magic is real, but rare, characters can be jerks but fun to read about, and you don't mind cultures that swing from Renaissance to iron age to medieval Middle Eastern, not to mention an ending that really doesn't end so much as lead full on into the next book, I'd recommend this book. On my own FWIW scale, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5, with it loosing points mainly due to the fact that it really is just the first part of a big book, rather than a book that completes a significant story arc on its own. Plus it does start out a bit slow, and doesn't hold the reader's hand too much when introducing the world.
The Blade Itself at Amazon
The Blade Itself at Audible