Blending the best of both complicated and reasonably (if not fast) paced fantasy, M. D. Ireman's The Axe and the Throne is an absolute killer that everyone needs in their collection. It is the start of Ireman's first series, Bounds of Redemption, which has the potential to move even higher on the list if future books continue to impress. This book will offend, frustrate, sadden, and shock you, and then it will reward you.
In the unnamed world that Ireman has created, characters that at first seem ordinary for the genre evolve to become truly epic. From viking-esque warriors, self-determining females, and scheming politicians, the cast is extensive and ultimately very unique—I say ultimately because you will definitely be tempted to think you know the moulds used for some, only to be proven very wrong. Cassen is the shining example, who becomes perhaps the best villain I've read in the genre, the type you end up hating yourself for liking. Ireman has a gift for revealing inner dialogue in such an honest way that you have no choice but to sympathize with characters that other fantasy authors would boringly paint as motivated simply by evil.
Characters are the most important part of any book for me, however, there is something to be said for those moments in the plot where you are forced to put the book down in awe. Ireman expertly steers you down avenues of prediction that end up being toppled in the most astonishing ways, yet the story does not rely on any plot turns to be interesting. The focus remains constantly on the characters, all of whom are both believable and fascinating in some way. Be warned, however, there are a lot of POVs, some of which begin with their identity being unknown. It takes a competent reader to enjoy this type of book, so if you are easily frustrated by non-linear stories that take a bit of thought to fully decipher, you might want to level up on some tamer fare.
It is a fool's errand and Tallos knows it, but against his own better judgment and the pleading of his wife, Tallos has committed himself to a voyage north. His lifelong friend's eldest sons are said to have been taken by Northmen, a raiding people ill-reputed for their savagery. The boys are already dead, Tallos knows, and in that dark place of grim reasoning he wishes only to find their corpses quickly so he can fulfill his promise and return to his wife. Instead, he finds something far worse. More on Goodreads.