Well, I really should have read this work before Canticle. Very impressive stuff, took awhile to get into and the frequent jumps among characters is still overly jarring but I found a level of basic connection and awareness that I didn't reach in the sequel, and it made for a very strong debut fantasy. Great worldbuilding, intense and interesting story, and a wonderfully imagined theme connected to both these involving the acquisition and loss of knowledge. The characters weren't quite as good, and at times proved a little flat, but they were competent enough and their variety and gradual transformation over the course of the story worked well. What was less effective were the romance elements, which came across as fairly rushed and unconvincing, a way to attribute changed motivation to a couple key characters that never came across clearly. Another criticism I had for much of the book was Sethbert, and just how flat, stupid and relentlessly evil he was. I still feel that could have been done a lot better (I had similar thought with regards to Banks' Matter and the medieval villain in that) but the ending disclosure of him being merely a dupe for other forces worked to remedy that somewhat. It still could have been better though, and there still seems some contrivance in a major politcal player being as overtly evil as he was--at times he went out of the way to emphasize his cruelty and erratic violence in a way that alienated his forces. Overall this book was everything that high fantasy should be doing, showing a great talent for worldbuilding, plot and the intersection of the two. For full effectiveness I suppose I should reread Canticle to see how it better flows with a stronger grounding, but think I'll probably pass for the moment, although I might skim it or read a number of reviews. Given this series is announced for three more upcoming I'll make an effort to pick up the new elements, with an eye both to my own enjoyment and a possible Hugo watch.
Better than: Canticle by Ken Scholes
Worse than: The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace