1) What is the plot?
Valyn, the son of the emperor trains on a remote island in the arts of war. Kaden, the heir to the throne, lives at the far reaches of the earth in the Bone Mountains at a Shin monastery. Adare, the emperor's daughter has been raised to Minister of Finance following her father's death. But the plot against the throne isn't readily apparent. While Valyn seeks to complete his training, Kaden strives to achieve the life of a monk which holds an ancient secret that might be the savior of the whole empire. At the same time Adare must unravel the political plot, one that reaches higher than anyone can know.
2) What are the strong points?
The flow of the plot just works. The world building is strong and the parallels to Buddhism and Taoism are well written and even breath taking at times. The characters are ones you like and want to know more about.
3) What Doesn't Work?
This happens in a lot of fantasy and genre in general. That is the introduction of a minor character in a moment in the book simply so they can die. This only happens once, but it made this reader feel like the character was a place holder. I think the author could have used the death and to make a larger more profound and startling statement about some characters and they way in which they interact with the larger world.
4) What is the subject matter/deeper meaning?
On one hand this book is another fun fantasy tale about an emperor and his line. There are conspiracies and quests, there are coming of age stories, and there are battles. But the real matter of this book come from the Buddhist and Taoist parallels. The magic system is intertwined with these parallels well and the passages describing enlightenment are wonderful and serenely written. It's obvious the author has brought his own philosophical interests to this piece.
5) Who will like this book?
Anyone who's read Patrick Rothfuss will likely enjoy this book. I think Mr. Staveley has tapped into a similar market as Rothfuss--a lyrical and more nuanced style of writing for a fantasy novel. Yes, the plot constantly moves forward, but some passages just flow in a way you'd expect from a literary novel, rather than a fantasy. Those who enjoy Brandon Sanderson will find Staveley's writing just as engaging, but smoother and more refined.