It is rather unfortunate that a series with such an interesting premise ended up becoming so repetitive and boring. I definitely don't regret reading the trilogy/series, but I am relieved it is over. The previous novel, The Protector's War, chronciled all the events leading to war, and in this novel the war actually takes place. The novel begins with Juniper Mackenzie and Mike Havel attempting to form an official alliance or treaty with the other communities, including the city of Corvallis that would basically call up the other communities to go to war if attacked by another community. Juniper and Mike believe that due to their proximity to the Protectorate they have basically already been fighting for Corvallis's safety without any support or additional man power. However, there is a minor political incident, so the Bearkillers and Mackenzies don't get their wish at this point, but they know a war is coming.
The communities prepare for war against the Protectorate and eventually fight, using ambushes and tactics to win against larger forces (while this would obviously work once or twice, I'm not sure it would work every single time like it did here . . . ). I think part of the problem is not that Stirling is unwilling to kill off his heroes (though many of them do tend to have a knack for survival), but the fact that some of them are so annoying or flat that I don't care if they die (and for some, I may have even preferred their death to their self-righteous musings). The other issue, and it is one that I addressed regarding the previous novel as well, is that Stirling just can't stop repeating himself and hammering things into the reader's head. There is a fine line between giving a recap to jog people's memories and treating them like idiots. Stirling basically writes as if his reader remembers nothing at all about the previous novels, or as if he is writing for the few people that accidentally started the trilogy with the third novel. I completely understand getting repetitions of basic character outlines, but I don't think minor anecdotes necessarily need to be repeated every single time, such as how Juney inherited the farm, or how Havel, though of Finnish background, has a Czech name. Sometimes it's nice to treat the reader with some respect. Given that, I actually find it incredibly odd that Eilir keeps thinking that it's ridiculous that 24 year old Astrid is a virgin even though in Dies the Fire, Astrid was almost raped and then had to watch her would-be rapist brutally kill her mother (granted she may have not shared all the details with her best friend). I'm sure I would have some sexual hang ups after that, too. Yet that entire incident seems to be almost forgotten while Stirling keeps reminding us about non-essential things like Mike's last name?
Stirling introduced a few new characters in this one, showing even more from the Protectorate's side than previously. I mostly enjoyed Tiphaine, one of Sandra Arminger's assassins, though she was a bit much at times, and actually quite liked Sandra Arminger, the Protector's wife. It was kind of nice to have a character that was intelligent, cunning and not quite so sanctimonious and good. She does things for her own self interest and because she likes being in power rather than talking about the gods and nature and spouting Gaelic sayings all the time. This novel is better than The Protector's War, and the addition of the new characters certainly helped; unfortunately, I just couldn't get myself to care that much about Juniper Mackenzie or the Dunedain Rangers that much (apparently, Americans speaking Gaelic and Elvish irritate me), and they took up a large part of the novel as well.