I read this within 24 hours. I did not love it.
First the good:
Emily Gee writes well, not doubt about it; her prose is fluid and moves at a really good pace and her descriptions are short, yet they paint a very detailed picture, which is really hard for authors to do without dragging it on for too long.
She is really good at info-dumping, discreetly, and setting up an interesting premise even if the recipe is a little too "tried and true"; the political intrigues are very well explained and don't really bog down the plot.
Now the bad:
The romance. She has gone the all-too-familiar way that has been threaded a 1000 times and there's absolutely NO deviation from it.(show spoiler)
It is so predictable and annoying that it bogs down the whole plot because there are no twists in there, none! And to make matters worse, Gee has picked some of the worst kind of stereotypical characters to drive her point through:
This leads me to my last complaint: over-characterization. The Armsman from another country is the best example; he's being discriminated against...all the time. By everyone. Could have been mentioned once or twice, or shown, rather than told. Instead, every time he's around some other armsmen they have to point out that he's outlandish and call him names based on that fact alone.
Seriously, if I should pinpoint one feature that this book sorely lacks, it's subtlety. You never wonder what a person actually thinks or feels, it's all clear as day and the attributes of a character are hammered onto the pages, every few chapters, in case you forget.
There was potential for a really gripping, classic fantasy tale here but it is so mired in clichés, stereotypes and a reason to hate mages that is not quite convincing or even all that logical that it just made me annoyed with the characters rather than trying to understand them.
I'll skip the other two, this series is not original enough to put up with the annoying protagonists' little game of love, to me.
EDIT: Despite my severe objections, the author manages to get around some of the fantasy settings very originally. Magic comes with its own set of rules, spelling disaster if you forget them (though it has yet to be shown) and undead are treated in a way that makes you wish to never meet them.
The potential of Gee as a writer is unmistakable and she could become epic if she strayed a little from the "romance" as the main plot line and focused on the other aspects of the story, which were enough to make me turn the pages in the sparse form they represented, despite me rolling my eyes at the protagonists.