I loved the main character, Kemen Sendoa. He was wonderful--clear and clean, obsessed with honor but not dreadfully obsessed with pointing it out. He was intelligent and brave, a good person but not without a shade of bitterness and some regret. He was very human, his personality, history, and reactions very well handled. It's always so much easier for me to enjoy a book if I love the protagonist, and here, I did.
Hakan was also a good character--not as endearing to me, maybe, but good nonetheless, and he got better and better as the book progressed. Again, he was believably human, (lawful) good, but noticeably flawed. The author has a lovely hand with characters. Even the minor characters--the little boy in the village, the main villain, the king's brother from another country, and various farmers, innkeepers and soldiers along the way, were well done for what part they played.
The world building was also artfully done. I loved reading about the world they traveled through. Descriptions of forests, villages or mountainous scenery were concise but lovely. There was enough description of characters to give me a picture of them without overwhelming me with repetitive information. I did think at times that too many random names and directions were thrown around, when Kemen was musing about some other kingdom or its landmarks or their relation to each other--but then, this might all be handy for a sequel, and it didn't hinder my enjoyment of any direct environment portrayed in this book, so it's forgivable.
Also, while there wasn't a single scene I would have liked to see cut from the book, some of the scenes were slightly repetitive. Some conversations seemed to be put down multiple ways at different places in the book; some monologues or some of Kemen's musings just seemed to harp on the same subject over and over again. But still, I enjoyed every page, so this didn't really bother me.
The fight scenes were incredibly well done. Brief and sharp and clear as a knife, every one had me hooked and wishing for more by the time it was over. The first half of the book was a bit slow and I'd have loved to see some more action in there, but when the action actually came, it was perfect. I love the fact that nobody was invincible, either--everyone who actually got down to swordplay got hurt doing it, no matter how skilled they were.
I was slightly puzzled by one thing, however. The scene where Hakan is dueling at the end, and Kemen steps out to distract Hakan's opponent...so, if Kemen leaped on the traitor's back and killed him outright it would be dishonorable, but deliberately moving toward the duel to distract him so Hakan can finish him off, isn't dishonorable? But again, this was the only problem I have with any of the battle scenes.
I very much appreciated the messages woven into this book. People think that only religious books are preachy, but that isn't so--many of them manage to be preachy without having any religious context at all. This book isnt one of those. It openly shoots down racicm and turns over the ideas of honesty, courage, confidence, gratitude, pride and worthiness, but all without being cheesy or the least bit preachy. I love books that can pull this off, which gives it further points from me.
There were a spare handful of editing issues--present-tense and past-tense garbling, missing punctuation marks, typos and extra words floating around or missing, but overall it was nicely edited. This was a pleasant surprise for me, and I very much appreciate the author's serious effort to make the book look at least semi-professional. On a side note, I also think the cover is a horrible LotR ripoff: the lettering in particular might have been edited so it doesn't bring Ringwraiths to mind when I look at it...but still, I can't deny that the cover is gorgeous.
This is my wholly honest opinion of this book; the only thing that swayed it was the content of the book itself.