This is a new story in the Dies the Fire universe; it takes place about 20 years after A Meeting at Corvallis. Steve read the first couple of chapters of this at GAFilk in 2007; it massively spoils A Meeting at Corvallis, to the point where I decided to skip reading it (my mom's copy, assuming she really has one, having vanished, contributed to this decision). I was probably a tiny bit more confused than I would have been if I'd been totally up on the series, but it sure seems like the book I skipped was pretty skippable, being easily summarized by a couple of sentences of background in this one. However, I think I'd have been much less comfortable with the context if I hadn't read Dies the Fire and The Protector's War.
The setting remains interesting, the writing chapter by chapter is very engaging, and I'm still enjoying exploring the post-Change world. I am, however, greatly frustrated that Stirling doesn't seem to trust that I'm hooked, and has to bring up tantalizing mysteries in this first volume of what I assume (given today's publishing business) is meant to be another trilogy and then leave them blatantly hanging at the end of the book. Fun, but not deep (and I think less deep than the earlier ones). 7 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Ingolf Vogeler arrives in Suttderown just before Samhain, on horses he's nearly killed escaping the first snow in the pass to the east and (he believes) his pursuit. He goes to sleep in the arms of the beautiful Saba, only to be awakened in the middle of the night by assassins who nearly take him out and kill Saba because she was in the way. Fortunately, Rudi, Mathilda, Odard, and the Dunadain twins Ritva and Mary were in the inn because an ambassadorial party from England was in the castle. This party manage to outflank the mysterious assassins, who efficiently kill themselves in response to the order that they should be captured. Ingolf is very nearly dead, but if he lives, he'll be able to talk and explain who these people were and why they pursued him. The ambassadors cryptically and annoyingly show off a living passenger pigeon (it's only sort of hinted where it came from). When Ingolf can talk again, he explains that the assassins are elite fighters from the Church Universal and Triumphant, a crazy cult taking over a large area in Montana. Ingolf is a professional salvager and had undertaken an expedition all the way to Nantucket (the believed epicenter of the Change), where he saw some weird stuff and then started having disturbing dreams that directed him to go west. One of the members of his own team, Kuttner, was a traitor, and he barely escaped, and was pursued all the way to the west coast. On hearing his story, Rudi himself is overcome with visions and sent on a mission to go back to Nantucket and (apparently) recover Excalibur. Of course Mathilda decides she has to come along, which requires some intrigue, but they get the expedition, with a mythically appropriate nine questers, together in eastern Oregon. The scouts discover that an army coming south from Boise, who might be ready to help the New Deseret folks who are being routed by the CUT, are about to be ambushed by a large stealthy CUT force. For reasons that never make sense in the book, CUT agents pick this moment to try to assassinate President-General Thurston. The attempt is foiled thanks to our heroes, and Thurston decides to enter the war forcefully on the side of New Deseret. The big battle is joined; it's probably going all right, though it's a little iffy, when Thurston's son Martin intentionally arrives a little too late to stave off a charge on the command center. Martin, it seems, is not satisfied with Thurston's old fashioned idea that his successor should be determined democratically rather than having Boise pass from father to son. In tha chaos, the party is separeted; when the dust settles, Rudi is rescued by Thurston's younger son Frederick, but Mathilda is captured by the CUT. Right at the end, the old prophet of the CUT dies, leaving complete power to his even more evil son Sathaz.
The Church Universal and Triumphant is a real cult in the present day which I understand has some pretty wacky beliefs (one of my college friends used to be a member), but certainly nothing I've heard about them justifies the level of evil that's attached to them in this story. I wonder if Stirling has real justification for making them into such villains, or if they were just convenient.