Most of this book take place in parallel with the events of the previous one with only a minor part talking about the events after that. Considering the tone with which Dreams of Steel ended this makes for a somewhat frustrating read as the small part taking place in the "present" poses more questions than answers.
So this time a Standard bearer of the Company, the youngest of the survivors of the events in the North called Murgen is the Company's annalist. The poor guy has no hope whatsoever to be as awesome as the previous narrator, but he really tries and grows on readers with time. Murgen keeps reliving the siege of Dejagore being one of the guys who made it inside during the fatal battle in the end of Shadow Games. The guy also comes back to live his life after the siege ended. This poses an important question: does he go back in time, or forward; in other words which part is real and which is not? This makes for a somewhat confusing start.
As you can imagine, life in a besieged city is not exactly unicorns and rainbows and for this reason this is probably the bleakest installment of the series, exactly as the title warns.
Add to this different groups of people inside ready to jump at each other even with the common big threat outside the city - and you have a real explosive combination. To his own surprise Murgen found himself a reluctant unofficial Captain of the Old Guard (the people of the Company who joined before the Nar). This includes Goblin and One-Eye whose shenanigans deserve their own paragraph.
These two second-rate wizards can and do make the bleak atmosphere a little more lighthearted. I missed these guys in the previous book and welcomed their return here. In addition to their hilarious rivalry they (One-Eye in particular with his black spear) delivered a couple of really intense moments.
The events after the siege pose quite a few questions and deliver practically no answers. They also contain a scene which will reap out your heart and invite a herd of wild elephants to stomp on it, so beware.
I already mentioned this book being frustrating and the reason for this. I would give it 3 stars on my first read, but on the reread my opinion greatly improved as I knew the reason why it is written this way. Murgen really grows as a character and a narrator and the book introduces quite a few people that will be important in the future. It is also safe to say if you finished this one you are bound to finish the whole series as from this point on each following book is better and more exciting than its predecessor.