Having read the first in trilogy, "Assassins Apprentice" I approached this with some trepidation, middle books in trilogies usually being somewhat flat, merely building to the climax in the last novel. However, I need not have worried. Throughout the novel is well written in elegant prose, the pace is extremely good. Although it is a much longer book than the first, the length is not superfluous, Robin Hobb was not merely trying to write a long book for the sake of it, but needed to. The snapshot of a corrupt, intrigue entangled court is superb, and trying to sort out this web of betrayal is a major pleasure. The twists and turns are always well done, and contain moments when you knash your teeth in despair and want to scream at the characters. The air of tension in the novel is as good as many a thriller I have read.
Most of all, the characters are compelling, with the strong King-in-Waiting Verity, a good man on the verge of despair, the implacable Burrich and so on. All the characters seem to have layers, few of the major characters - with the possible exception of Prince Regal. Fitz, the central character is in the true mold of a modern Fantasy hero, a normal person forced into high events and is throughout a character it is easy to sympathise with.
The book touches on many issues - love, honour, duty, betrayal - and deals well with them, without being superficial or trite.
The only major gripe in this otherwise excellent novel is the slight feeling of smallness, of a very limited world. This is not a major problem, however, as the world Robin Hobb has created is rich enough.