Note that this is now back in print as part of the omnibus edition A Cruel Wind, covering the first Dread Empire trilogy.
this book is by far the best of the dread empire trilogy. it focuses mainly on ragnarson this time, with mocker having a very small part in the narrative, and varthlokkur playing a larger part than in the previous. while the billing for the novel is that the star rider's motives would be revealed, you are left with more questions than answers. i do wonder how much of the pracchia and the Nines had been mapped out in previous novels, it sort of comes out of the blue here.
i will say this for Mr. Cook, he can be brutally pragmatic when the story calls for killing off some characters, which is somewhat refreshing as a departure from the norm of 'red-shirts' (ref. to original star trek chars in red shirts being the ones to die each episode) being the only deaths in much fiction.
My big complaint (if it is one, spoiler alert) is the lack of clear explanation of the motive of the Star Rider. It is clear he is trying to create as much bloodshed as possible, via manipulations of various governments via the Pracchia as well as his own direct manipulations (not least of which were creation of El Murid and the passing of the crown to Haroun), but in the first DE novel the Old Man suspects that the star rider might be trying to escape his sentence due to the pointlessness of some recent bloody exploits. Maybe I am just dense, but I have never understood the goal of the star rider, much less any notion of the powers than condemned him to this world (implication from the first book is that he was not from this world). While maybe this is something that would have been cleared up in The Wrath of Kings, material in the other second trilogy novels doesn't imply this. Maybe cook left this as a mystery; after all, not explaining everything can add more to a story than the explanation itself (ref: the lord of the rings).
the following has spoilers for the entire dread empire series.
edit - recently reread this (june 2007) and realized that haroun apparently died after killing O Shing and subsequently trying to find Mocker. I completely missed this the first time around. The text is a bit vague, but the tone, text, and absolute lack of future haroun appearances implies that he did. I had originally thought Cook might use Haroun to resolve one large plot element in The Wrath of Kings )comment may 2012, can I get credit for at least thinking this at some point in the past? It was alluded to very vaguely in reap the east wind too), but maybe I was wrong. If you have a comment on this, please leave it.