This novel is the sequel to Dies the Fire, the first in a trilogy that explores what would happen if all man made power and energy simply stopped working. When starting a new series or trilogy it can be nice to know that the entire series is already published, but this can also lead to other issues. For example, when reading the novels back to back rather than having to wait a year or two between novels, certain flaws become more obvious, or certain things suddenly get a bit annoying. It is obviously necessary to remind readers of the events that occurred in previous novels but how much of a reminder is required depends on time between novels. In the case of this series, I occasionally felt like I was getting hit upside the head with the repetition, especially when describing certain main characters such as Mike, the former marine from Michigan with a Finnish background (and a Finnish battle cry) and some Native American blood. It got a little old to say the least. More annoying to me, though, were Juniper Mackenzie's constant Gaelic sayings. Got it, you have Irish ancestors, you're a Wiccan, but you're from Oregon. There is just something about it that seems put on rather than making her seem wise and folksy. I think this may be me though - I enjoy reading about druids and such in their historical setting but I quickly roll my eyes at new ageism and discussions of inner goddesses (sorry to offend, some of this may be a result of lack of knowledge in belief systems). Of course, based on the fact that her son Rudie's craft name is Artos, and he forms an instant bond with a horse, it is rather clear that Stirling may be insinuating that Rudie is a kind of reincarnation of King Arthur (also, there is a follow up series to this trilogy which focuses on Rudie, and one of the titles has something to do with a sword).
The novel takes place about eight years after the change, or the ending of the last novel. Most of the areas have stabilized and have managed to become more or less prosperous depending on the area, but the threat of the Protectorate in Portland and its surrounding area still looms. Arminger, their leader or "the Protector," wants to expand and create an empire, and the Mackenzies and the Bear Clan (Mike's people) are the ones that will be most immediately affected. In addition to being slightly annoyed with all the Gaelic sayings, I wasn't really that into all the Elvish. Yes, that's right - Astrid Larsson, a Lord of the Rings fanatic, has become an amazing fighter and with her friend Eilir, leads some of the younger people (ie late teens/early twenties) in a band of warriors or rangers, drawing much inspiration from Tolkien's works. I guess I can see the reasoning from a tactical perspective to speak in a code that enemy troops might not understand, but it was a bit much just the same. How much one enjoys these types of references probably all depends on what one's childhood obsessions were.
Given that, my favorite part of the novel was when Stirling expands his view from Oregon's Willamette Valley and gives a glimpse of what has happened in the rest of the world, particularly Europe and England. The United Kingdom has survived under King Charles III, and they are going back to their roots by colonizing the parts of Europe that weren't quite as lucky in their survival (Britain's main advantage was some of its islands off the coasts while countries like Germany and France were too densely populated throughout to have many, if any, survivors). Additionally, Tasmania survived the incident rather well, and like the British, are sending out exploration teams to discover the state of affairs in the world. It is via a Tasmanian ship that three Englishmen find themselves in Oregon. Sir Nigel Loring, his son Alleyne, and his son's friend, John Hordle, have to leave Britain after angering King Charles III, and quickly become involved in the politics of the Willamette Valley (and naturally there are three single women located there to help these men who are "in want of a wife").
Overall the novel wasn't bad, but the weaknesses of the first novel are certainly magnified in this one, and certain character traits are so focused on that they detract from the story. While I can understand the idea that with lack of technology, certain things would regress quickly, I'm just not sure I buy it or that the establishment of new types of culture happening quite as quickly as they do. Also, the title is slightly misleading since there are a few skirmishes in this novel that lead to political issues, but the war doesn't actually begin until the next novel, and this novel simply deals with the incidents leading up to its development.