I've been button-holing prospective readers for years, trying to explain to them what a mind-bogglingly fantastic writer Susan R. Matthews is, and what wonderful books her Jurisdiction novels are. Unfortunately, I am not nearly as talented, so I am not going to be up to the task. But I'm going to try anyway, starting with an overall explanation of what I enjoy about the whole series, followed by some specific Warring States praise.
First, Matthews never talks down to her readers. Her prose is rich, incorporating enough unusual grammar, syntax and unusual words to immerse us in a different place and time, and with just a deft sentence here and there, she introduces us to a myriad of different cultures and their complex problems. She dances lightly through the story, sprinkling it with references to traditional beliefs, religious systems, government and military systems in all their good, bad, mundane, honorable, corrupt, bureacratic, overburdened, human glory.
Secondly, her characters are never shallow, never completely good or evil, though their actions are frequently one or the other. Andrej Koscuisko, the main protagonist of most of the books, is a deeply flawed individual, shaped and bound by his culture and status, not to mention an unfortunate psychological quirk, but on a painful course of self-discovery and liberation.
Thirdly,(and this isn't all but I don't want to go on forever) the issues that Matthews tackles head on are both current and timeless. Where does power come from? What does it do to people? What happens when it's abused? Why is it abused? How are people to manage the difference between the Rule of Law and Justice?
Now for Warring States. It was good to see more about the workings of the Jurisdiction and the Bench Specialists. All our favorite characters were back and all busy either trying to keep anarchy from breaking out or to using the anarchy breaking out to try to correct injustices done under a brutally heavy-handed Bench. Jil Ivers, a Bench Specialist who has dedicated her life to the Rule of Law and who has sometimes been callous about collateral damage, is facing a chance of becoming a victim of the system herself if she can't find who killed Sindha Verlaine, her former boss. Andrej Koscuisko takes a bold step, breaking the law to do what he knows to be right, and in the end moving further down a hard road to redemption. There are new characters to enjoy as well. A female Malcontent Bench Specialist, Jils ex-lover, and the family of the late Joslire, who are determined to adopt Andrej into their family.