How to describe this book? I love the characters. I love the universe. I love his writing of battle scenes. So why aren't Weber's books quite as much fun as they used to be? Oh, this volume isn't as bad as some - there aren't quite as many chapters involving bad guys talking each other to death as in some other recent volumes, but there's still far far FAR too much.
I think the problem is that one of Weber's greatest virtues - his desire to ensure everything hangs together logically, something that makes his universes a joy to read about - has also become a liability. Because when what the villains are doing DOESN'T make sense, this nags at him and so he feels he has to spend page after page - chapter after wretched chapter in Storm from the Shadows - allowing them to doubletalk and self-justify themselves into thinking that what they're doing is still perfectly sensible. Which alas both bores the reader to tears and also makes it clearer than ever to us how the plot is railroading these people into their stupidities. STOP IT, WEBER, PLEASE! If bad guys need to act stupidly, then make them misinformed or mistaken or just plain stupid. Don't pretend it all makes sense. And certainly not for large chunks of the book!
All of which said, as I said this book's not as bad as some have been, and is made that much more tolerable because I love these characters and their world and have been longing to see more of them. Some events and developments here won't surprise anyone who was paying attention to the carefully-inserted placeholders in War God's Own and Windrider's Oath, and it'll be interesting to see where he takes the series now (it's about time we found out why the bad guys are going to regret not managing to kill Brandark). The action scenes towards the end of the book are as good if not better than ever, and whilst the Deus Ex Machina is perhaps a little convenient, I thought it was very well done.
Rating this one's tricky. For personal enjoyment, 4 stars. In and of itself, 2 stars. So I'll give it 3.
PS Mr Weber. If you dig a sloping tunnel through a hill, you do NOT get a wind arising through the tunnel from atmospheric pressure differences between the bottom and the top. BECAUSE THERE'S ATMOSPHERE IN THE TUNNEL TOO. Think about it - if you put a sloping pipe into a fish tank with its top end open to the air does water then fountain out because there's greater pressure at the bottom end than the top end? No, of course it doesn't. And it'd be just the same with air. You might well get an air-flow arising from local geography e.g. if the bottom is in a valley floor which funnels the wind, but it doesn't come from the difference in altitude!