This is the second book in a series of which the first is one of my absolute favorite young adult fantasy books. While I enjoyed this book, I did not do so nearly as much as the first. Perhaps this is the danger with series: you fall in love with the totally new world presented to you in the initial book, and it is this newness that partially attracts you. You can read that book over and over and still love it, but somehow the magic is lost once a second, then a third, and sometimes a fourth or more is written.
The first book was about a 14-year old girl, Thirren Strong in the Arm Lindenshield, a princess of the Icemark and heir to a throne held always by warriors. She must make new alliances with peoples her countrymen had only heard legends of in order to fight off the Polypontus Empire (Rome, obviously) and save her homeland. The war is not just between two peoples, but between the cold, scientific minds of the Polypontus and the residents of the Icemark and beyond, who know magic and huge talking animals and the like. It is the struggle between believing in only what you can see, and believing in something a little more fantastical than that. While I personally do not subscribe to the Icemark's philosophical position, as such, it is always good to imbue young adult fiction with some sort of overarching message. It's not just about the killing and the vampires and all that; it's about forcing yourself to confront what you really believe.
Anyways, the second book follows Sharley (short for Charlemagne), Thirrin's youngest child, as he struggles to save the Icemark yet again from the Polypontus despite his physical handicaps. His villain is Medea, his sister, who alone inherited their father's magical powers, and is evil to the core. She would see her family and the country they love destroyed, but goes about this business with the shortsightedness of any vindictive 15-year old girl. Throughout the book, we meet various peoples who are thinly veiled versions of real nationalities: Venezzia, the Desert People, the Lusu. One begins to grow somewhat weary of Hill's lack of imagination when it came to populating his world. A message is all well and good, but give the reader a little credit and make it harder to navigate! All in all, I enjoyed reading the book, and it was easy to get through in a matter of days, but it wasn't quite as enjoyable as the first. Needless to say, I will still pick up the third, and last, installment of the series.