Review updated on October 2, 2016.
This is a buddy read with my fellow die-hard Glen Cook fans
A city-state of Qushmarrah used to be under a ruthless rule of an evil wizard Narkar until the day it was conquered by Herodians - a rival nation. Herodians would not have a chance against Narkar, but at exactly the moment of their attack an assassin struck a death blow against the mighty wizard. His wife managed to froze the two in time right at that moment.
And so Herodians with the help of desert mercenary nomads called Datars succeeded. Both now rule the city under an uneasy truth. Some of the native citizens resent the foreign rule and their undercover resistance movement bides their time to overthrow the foreigners. Meanwhile to their complete surprise the simple people realized their life became better after Narkar's demise.
Thus in one city we have Herodians, Datars, the Living (the resistance), and the Witch (a wife of a fallen wizard and a mighty magician herself) all with different goals and agendas. I do not need to mention that there are some individuals who pursue their own goals to complicate the picture even further. The simple people are stuck right in the middle as usual in such situations .
It follows that the situation is ripe for double-crossings and back-stabbings. I keep repeating that when it comes to these Glen Cook is on his own level: I really cannot recall any author who does it better. With the setup above the guy delivers. There are places where it is hard to keep track who is allied to whom at the moment and who just double-crossed his supposed ally and why.
The characters are great; practically none of them are pure villains and once you get to know their motives you begin to understand that most of them are just trying to do that is best for their people. For this reason it is hard to hate practically any of them - with some minor exceptions of real jerks. Of a special note is Aaron: a simple carpenter. He is probably the closest to a good guy ever created by Glen Cook, but he is still not Mary Sue.
This is a standalone novel - something of a dying breed in modern fantasy. The page count of my copy is exactly 300 pages, but it turned out to be enough for a good world-building, some great characters, all the backstabbing action, and even some romance. It reminded me in spirit of The Book of South of The Black Company, so any fans of that should read this book. Even The Witch feels like a Lady Jr. The story has some minor weaknesses that prevented me from giving a perfect rating, but it surely rates 4 very solid stars.