Gentle, here, portrays a fascinating world -- an alternative Protectorate England -- with filth and luxury, magic and hard-eyed politics, juxtaposed. I was disappointed at the shortness of the book therefore. There seems to be so much here -- and the author keeps so much to herself.
The characters are interesting, truly "different", especially the large and less than hygienic Casaubon. The protagonist, the physician/sorceress/warrior White Crow is violent, conflicted and ultimately quite real. The mercenary Pollexfen has his moments, especially on the gallows. But other characters get short shrift. Both the Protector Olivia and Queen Carola could be far deeper than they are here. Toward the end of the book, I found White Crow's motivations unclear, to the point that I wasn't really sure what she intended to do.
Gentle writes well and has established that through a number of excellent books. She also pulls no punches. Architecture of Desire is cold and brutal, to be sure. It also contains some strange, dizzying POV shifts, and the indeterminacy of the conclusion bothered me. But the imagery is stark and stunning.
Another near-miss here concerns the plot. One plot line, that of a massive public structure which cannot, or should not, be built because the tainted royal blood used to sanctify its foundations has attracted demons -- is fascinating. I love the themes of architecture, cosmology and the human soul, and they fit the time period very well. But Gentle has chosen to focus on what for me is a less original and interesting plot, that of White Crow's and Pollexfen's dual rape of a woman named Desire and the choice White Crow must make when the mercenary ends up about to be hanged. As I've said, I found the end alarmingly unclear: is White Crow going back to Casaubon and their young children... or not?
I recommend this as a pill against milksop literature, but not without some reservations.