Really three and a half stars. A slow start for me, but sometimes good stories take a while to build, and by the end, I couldn't put it down. There is an interesting mix of characters, somewhat archetypical but done well enough that they developed uniqueness. A feudal system, a failing monarch, an unscrupulous chancellor, a strong-minded but elderly female ruler, young heirs running wild, but all with twists that give them individuality. I do appreciate the hero, Cazaril, being developed more along an anti-hero line. Not because he is ethically questionable--far from it--but because he is a physical wreck. As he regains his footing, he undergoes some spiritual challenges as well. Bujold thankfully avoids the traps of failing to have critical information shared between characters, so while Caz undergoes spiritual struggles, he discovers people to help him find his path. I also greatly appreciated Iselle, the young female royal being developed and individualized into a well-rounded, thoughtful person, almost the exact opposite of her brother.There are a few fantastical elements that are well placed, making it an epic fantasy filled with divine miracles more than magical ones. I enjoyed the assured way Bujold handles language and development, and appreciated the balance between reflection and action. If the plot wasn't altogether a surprise, it was well done, and a pleasant journey along the way.