This was definitely better than N.K. Jemisin's first outing, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The writing was better, the characterizations were better, and the plot was better. However, I still felt like there was something missing.
First off, Ms. Jemisin does not write romance well. This happened in the previous book of this trilogy, where there was no chemistry whatsoever between Yeine and Nahadoth, and it happened again here between Oree and Itempas. In fact, the romance between Madding and Oree was much better. Even though we only get a glimpse at Madding (I would have preferred to learn much more about him than what we got to know), this romance feels authentic. The two love each other but hurt each other, yet they want to remain together even though there are reasons not to. It was mature and it made sense. I admit to feeling a little upset when Madding died.
However, the romance that Ms. Jemisin tries to set up between Oree and Itempas falls flat. I understand now (after having read Book #3) why this romance had to happen (though I will admit that with some tweaking, it would have been rendered unnecessary). But I felt as though these two characters were much better as friends. Their friendship (or at least the growth of their relationship into a friendship) rang true to me, and was really compelling. The sudden love, at least on Oree's part (makes sense, she's the narrator) didn't feel right.
I will say that this novel was unique in that it told a story from the POV of a mostly blind narrator. It was an interesting viewpoint, but one that got frustrating awfully fast. I kept hoping some miracle would gift her with eyesight because I wanted to "SEE" the world and the characters. And one last nitpick: the author's writing style. I'm not a fan of her asides written in parentheses. They detract from the flow of the story, and can sometimes even be unnecessarily put in as an aside in brackets. It took me out of the story and made me think that this is what the author is feeling at this moment, or she felt that as an author she had to explain her reasoning. It was weird. I'm also not a fan of the narration being explained. In the previous book it was a story being told from Yeine's soul to Enefa's soul. In this, it was a story that Oree was telling her unborn child. I'm glad the author touches on this in the first pages of the next book. It made me laugh.