is the second (after Best Served Cold
) stand-alone sequel to the The First Law
trilogy, and is set about a decade later.
In the intervening years, ruthless barbarian warrior Black Dow has seized control of the North and is opposed by the Union and his Union-supported former ally The Dogman.
The war which results is the subject of the novel, which is a grimly ironic war story in the same way that the original trilogy was a grimly ironic deconstruction
of High Fantasy
. The title is a reference to a Stonehenge-like structure on a hill, which both sides are fighting over, as well as the idea of The Hero in wartime, a term which in practice ends up amounting to Blood Knight
This work provides examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: This trope is a large part of why Black Dow keeps Calder around, even while knowing he's a scheming double-crosser, as he finds Calder's sarcastic comments (including some of the ones about himself) to be amusing.
- Ascended Extra: Brenner dan Gorst, a minor character in previous books is one of the main POV's here.
- Beneath the Mask: Gorst has several layers. His appearance makes him seem like The Brute, but his effiminate voice and manner make him come across as more like a Gentle Giant. Once given a POV, he reveals a bitterly sarcastic personality who inwardly snarks at others and rages at the disrespect he's shown. And underneath it all, he's a crazy Blood Knight.
- It Will Never Catch On: At one point, Craw's group is eating cheese and bread around the fire, and Whirrun gets the idea of slicing the bread and putting the cheese between it- thereby inventing the sandwich. No one else gets it, preferring to just rip off chunks of cheese and bread.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tunny is a lazy rogue who makes his men pay through the nose for decent food and gear (separate from the shoddy things provided for them by the Army), but his friendly attitude toward his men is genuine, as his his desire to help them (in his cynical way) to survive combat and thrive.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Gorst initially is sympathetic because he's the Only Sane Man compared to most of the Union commanders, and was unjustly dismissed from his post as the King's bodyguard. Then, it turns out that he's an insane Blood Knight and was actually (literally) caught with his pants down when he failed to guard the King, and that wasn't his first screw up either.
- Mundane Utility: Whirrun of Bligh uses The Father of Swords to slice the bread, when he invents the sandwich.
- Noble Top Enforcer: Craw, universally known as a "Straight Edge" is selected by Black Dow to be his "Second". After Calder kills Black Dow (with help) he enlists Craw for the same position. On the other hand, Black Dow's actual enforcer, Shivers, is anything but noble.
- Poisonous Friend: Finree works behind the scenes in order to advance the position of her husband, a good and honest man, who as the son of a traitor, has been relegated to a low position.
- Retired Monster: Black Dow has become one of these. Originally the designated Token Evil Teammate of his generation, after murdering his way to power, he finds that his new position requires him to approach conflicts with methods other than violence, which also causes him to mellow out to some degree. He likes to joke that compared to the way he was in youth, he should now be known as "White Dow".
- The Scrounger: Corporal Tunny can get anything for his men...for a price.
- Those Two Bad Guys: The brothers Deep and Shallow, known for being two of the best or worst (depending on whether you are the one paying them) men in the North have this dynamic, and serve as Calder's bodyguards.
- Took a Level in Kindness: Prince Calder, who in his brief appearance in the original trilogy was an all around unpleasant arrogant dirty coward is a POV in this novel, and exhibits this to some degree. He's still an arrogant Dirty Coward, but he's made some efforts to be a better man as part of taking power and avenging his father. It helps that he aims to bring peace to the North (making him the Only Sane Man), loves his wife and his brother, and is hilariously snarky. Black Dow is also a lot more sympathetic in this novel than in previous appearances, having mellowed out a bit and being scene through the eyes of Noble Top Enforcer Craw.
- Whole Plot Reference: The novel takes inspiration from Gods and Generals, a historical fiction account of the Battle of Gettysburg which uses a similar Switching P.O.V. format. The Heroes (the geographic location) is a stand-in for Little Round Top, and although the two differ in personality, Corporal Tunny plays a similar role to Joshua Chamberlain (and is introduced in a similar scene) as a "man who doesn't like fighting but is really good at it", and manages to do unexpected things with a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.