This short novel feels more like a historical novel set in somebody else's world than fantasy. There's no real magic - there's a sword that may be magic or it may just be believed to be magic - and that's it.
It's also subtly Christian and supposedly deeply philosophical - unfortunately, I didn't quite get the philosophy, although I did get the point - that throwing somebody down as far as possible makes them a better leader in the end. Maybe. (I also suspect that his Gloaming prison may have been partly inspired by the underground prison in the Batman comics, also seen in the movie The Dark Knight Rises - if not, then we have some great minds here).
It works better as a straight story than as an allegory, but it's very well written and pulls the reader in. Some people might be put off by the length - it's very short for a fantasy book, although it's more in line with what I'd expect from this kind of philosophical/allegorical fiction. However, there's nothing on the outside of the book to indicate it is an allegory. The nice thing is it's not so preachy as to annoy the non-Christian reader - Simmons is no C.S. Lewis, but he does try his best.
The fun part was that the good guys and bad guys alike were trying to work within their political system (Similar, by the way, to the Holy Roman Empire) to solve their problems instead of just killing each other.
Quite an enjoyable read.
Four and a half stars.
(Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book with my WFC membership).