The second book of the series, 'The Betrayal of Winter', is a much more racy read than the first, moving along at a cracking pace. It focuses on the means of inheritance of the Khaiem (the three eldest sons compete for the right to inherit by killing their rivals, and all other sons are sent away to attempt to become poets, or be branded and live normal lives), and the action takes place in the northern city of Machi.
The central conspiracy which drives the plot is just as hare-brained as the one in the first book, but somehow the consequences of it are much more natural and therefore believable. The two main characters from the first book, Maati the poet and Otah/Itani the labourer, now a courier, are drawn into the political affairs of Otah's family in Machi, somewhat reluctantly. In both cases they resist being personally involved, but their past history and their own desire to do the right thing and protect the innocent drags them deeper in.
There are two significant new characters - Cehmai the poet at Machi, a young man who has successfully taken over the local andat from his predecessor, which underscores Maati's own failure in that respect, and Idaan, a daughter of the Khai, who resents her own unimportance in state affairs, since she is a woman. And there is a third character - the andat itself, Stone-Made-Soft, a very different personality from the acid intelligence of the previous book's Seedless, but just as resentful and resistant. The interplay between doing the things we are expected (or even forced) to do and what we truly want to do is one of the themes of the book.
So too is the idea of family, Otah's (and Idaan's) family which rejected him as an unwanted younger son and sees no value in her, and the family which Maati tried to have with his (and Otah's) lover Liat and failed. Then there is the fratricide which is essential by tradition to ensure a strong succession for the ruling family.
Much as in the first book, the plot is driven as much by people's mistakes and misunderstandings as by logical thought and decisive action. Sometimes they drift into situations, half awake, and sometimes they do the wrong thing or do the right thing badly, and sometimes they have to take huge risks because it is absolutely the right thing to do. But this time, the characters behave more believably, and the better pacing makes this a fine book. It speeds along at a cracking rate, quickly becoming an addictive page turner, and leads in very nicely to the next book in the series.