On the face of it, The King's Bastard is simple BSF (bog-standard fantasy). There is a map at the beginning. The king is old, starting to lose his grip on warlike vassals and there is an evil bastard prince stirring up rivalry between the arrrogant and implusive heir to the throne and his (marginally) younger-but-obviously-better-suited-to-rule brother. And all that wild magic is getting stirred up...
It is however better than that, mainly due to some good characterisation.
Minor gripes first: the "world" is way to small, comprising one big island and some smaller ones. We may get a wider sense of scope later on, but the main "continent" is tiny, assuming the map is to scale. There is a startling repetition of ideas too - in the first few pages, our hero hunts a wild magical beast, kills it, but is then suprised when another shows up, with serious consequences. A couple of chapters later, our hero hunts a magical beast, kills it, and is suprised when another shows up, with serious consequences. Said beasts are also seemingly ripped off from an AD&D Monster Manual with some vowel rearrangements to disguise the fact that we are dealing with cockatrices, griffins, wyverens and the like.
These are minor gripes however, and overall the setting is original, with "spurs" on the island ruled by dissenting warlords desperate for the food and riches of the central plains. The frozen north setting is not exactly new, and not quite as grim as Winterbirth or as detailed as JV Jone's ...Ice series, but it feels realistic. The characterisation is also very good, and I felt an immediate liking for all of the main characters. There are some suprising interpersonal developments in the opening chapters that immediately signal this is better in intellectual and emotional matters than most BSF.
Recommended if you like JV Jones and Robin Hobb.