I mostly enjoyed this slightly unusual fantasy novel, although I do have some criticisms. The audiobook kept my attention pretty easily for nearly 18 hours. Since I don't have a copy of the ebook or paperback, I apologize for my inevitable spelling mistakes with proper nouns. I'm going to try to avoid spoilers.
This book would make a great movie or TV show. It has a good amount of humor; although some of it is dated cultural references like “the cake is a lie,” some of the in-universe jokes made me laugh. Beyond that, it's very cinematic. The author is talented at creating original metaphors, though, which would be lost in a different format. I didn't find the book as funny as Terry Pratchett, nor are there insightful observations about human nature. But Eames's writing style is generally clever and I liked it.
The story moves along at a fast pace, and the characters have a lot of adventures. There's a primary plot and then side plots, mostly dealing with each character's family and/or backstory. For the first third of this book, I was on the fence about continuing. But somewhere around the time when they had to fight in the arena, I started caring a lot about the characters.
All of the main characters are male, although there are some important female characters. I really didn't like the plotline of the most prominent female character, Larkspur. Part of her power is a sexual allure that makes men (I noticed no lesbian/bi women in this world) do her bidding. She's also a fabulous fighter, so I don't think the sexual allure ability was even necessary. But it needed more exploration than it got, because it's such a sexist trope. Or she could've had a mind-control power that had nothing to do with sexual attraction, like the ability to convince people to help her in whatever way she needed. I had problems with some of the other female characters, also, and with the male-gaze-y way they were always introduced.
In general, I think I would've liked this book better with multiple points of view. I don't often read books narrated by lone cishet white male characters because I personally have trouble immersing myself in that PoV. I'm not saying these books have no value or even that there should be fewer books of this kind, just that it's not my personal preference as a reader, particularly when I'm supposed to identify only with that character. But this book has more depth than that; Clay is not meant to be a generic “everyman,” although I do think the reader is usually supposed to sympathize with his reactions. He has his own problems, though, and his own character arc. The author is also very good at showing us all the characters' reactions to different situations.
Minor spoiler Here's Clay's description of a different important female character:"...and the fact that she fought like a Cascar berserker who'd walked in on her husband in bed with her sister."I think it shows a lot that Clay and/or the author described a female warrior's strength this way.
I wanted to read this book partly because I saw some one-star reviews complaining about the existence of a gay character. So I was primed to like that character, Moog, and I did! He's not flawless, either, although he is a completely good man. He is immature and nerdy, and he's the character out of this bunch I'd most want to adventure with myself. I also really liked his close friendship with Matrick. Kit was my second-favorite character, and I would've liked to see more of him.
Overall, I think if I were a different person, this would be one of my all-time favorite books. I did like it, though, and I will read the next book, which the author says will be about Rose. I'm really curious to see how that works out and if some of the qualities that make me uncomfortable about this book will still be present.
If you like RPGs, especially Bioware-type games, I think you'd probably like this. It isn't really in the same vein as Terry Pratchett, although I see why Pratchett fans might like it. I'll definitely recommend it to epic fantasy readers.