I received this book just in time to start vacation - and discovered that I'm now mere miles from the location of the author/self publisher. Which has nothing to do with the book, but demonstrates that it's a small and often weird world...
Stephens' setting of a world in which the dead can speak to the living through "bone-speakers" is a refreshing new (at least to me) concept. The basic principle is fairly standard fantasy - a prince whose dissolute lifestyle is ruining his country with larger neighbours who want to absorb the little principality and encourage his debt. The prince's actions lead to incipient revolution, but the addition of the bonespeakers to the mix adds a third side between the privileged and the oppressed - now the dead have a voice.
Sylvio di Danuto has to learn to tread a careful path between revolution & anarchy, to find a solution to his country's problems where the cure is not worse than the disease. In a fantasy, that's easily done. What's not so easily done is to convince the reader that - human nature being what it is - such a path is achievable in a "real" world. Lorina Stephens manages this very handily. I was sure, as I came close to the end of the book, that she was either going to have to resort to a deus ex machina
, or a sequel (I'm not sure which I like less...), but no, without changing the pace we arrive at a very satisfying (if not necessarily happy) ending.
My only complaint comes from some of the interior whinging of the main character. When branded as a traitor - by agents of the aggressor nation - he considers his life to be essentially over, because everybody will know his shame. Yet, what reasoning person can consider that being branded a traitor by your enemies is shameful? Yeah, I know, people are rarely reasonable, but I expected better of him.