The plot can be described in a couple of sentences, literally. This is about a 3-day battle between the Union forces (civilized bureaucratic society) and Northern people (barbarians), and also about the events right before it and its aftermath. This is probably the most spoiler-free plot description I ever wrote, by the way.
Joe Abercombie is the undisputed king when it comes to modern grimdark fantasy. Yes, I have read Malazan epic. Yes, I still stand by what I said in the beginning of the paragraph. I even admit that I do not like his first standalone in The First Law universe - Best Served Cold that much. My opinion on him is still the same.
Ask any Abercrombie's fan about his main strength and the first answer you get from anybody would be characters. I was fairly skeptical about these when I started to read as in the first trilogy he had three books to develop them while here he had to do it in just a third of space. My fears were somewhat justifies as there are some two-dimensional people which is unavoidable given their number and relatively (for a fantasy book) small page count, but there are some really great people is here. My personal favorite is Craw followed closely by Calder. These are just two of quite a few others. This is the first time I fully realized that Bayaz is really truly scary
. On the negative side, Black Dow is a pale shadow of himself in the first trilogy.
I would also like to point out this is probably the first time somebody perfectly conveyed the mood of simple soldiers right before the battle. I found myself vividly imagining staying in the line of soldiers waiting for the attack to come - several times. I do not mean the glorious part; I mean gritty brutal all-out attack.
The final rating is 4.5 stars
with half of a star lost due to some minor annoyances; I already mentioned one of them - some of the returning characters do not feel like themselves. For anybody unfamiliar with the series and curious about it, read it in publication order or you will get spoilers and will be confused.
This review is a copy/paste of my LeafMarks one: https://www.leafmarks.com/lm/#/users/10968/books/69313/review