This was another one of those books that caused my opinion and mood to fluctuate greatly as I read. Once again this affirms my growing belief that a reader should in most cases finish a work before rating it, unless of course it's outright offensive to the reader's sensibilities. I say that because the old bit of wisdom about grabbing a reader in the first thirty pages never really seems to work for me. I have to get to the end before I know what I'm going to think.
Monica has, in my opinion, a set of themes and images that cleave fairly close to my own style as a writer so I must say that I am fairly biased from the beginning. I can also tell this book is a labor of love, and it tests the genre limits without concern. This is a GOOD thing, and once again I'm primed to give this book a high rating.
I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of telegrams as a way of showing how the main antagonist was being diverted from the protagonists. My book also covers years of stuff, and I've learned that it's very difficult to do. I can tell here Monica also struggled, but she does a mostly admirable job of explaining why they have the time to train in secret without simply being destroyed by a far more adept enemy. The only major criticism I have in terms of pacing/passage of time is that the middle (iirc around 30%) drags a bit. I'm still not sold on the Thomas character, either, who shows up during these pages. I think it added a pleasant undertone, another little subplot that the reader probably needs in order to stay engaged, but I think it could have been drawn in with bolder lines.
The main character is awesome. Bartholomew is ancient and in service to a divine struggle, a divine struggle that manages to be new and interesting even though it evokes the Four Horseman, and I could really buy in to the idea that he'd been all over the world. His speech is peppered with words from languages other than English, and it feels natural for him to talk in that fashion. He's also a bit at loose ends about how to raise a girl, Matilde, who also has a big role to play in the aforementioned divine struggle.
At this point the only other criticism I have is that I wish the beginning had more sensory details, but again I think that's a very subjective and difficult to do thing. It's too easy to have your characters stand there going, I saw X, then I smelled Y and so on. The details do come later, but I had trouble envisioning the environment at first.
I'll be up front about this: there's a certain grooming aspect to Matilde and Bartholomew's relationship. Personally, this doesn't bother me. The characters in fiction are in service to powers and forces that don't exist in reality, and thusly their behavior is often altered and it becomes difficult to hold it to real world ethical standards. That, and I enjoy grey morality in my tales when employed in certain ways. It won't bother me if they become lovers, even though he has in essence raised her. The characters seem to realize that normally this arrangement would be questionable, but given their circumstances it's merely expedient.
The battle scenes are very good. I love to both read and write action so it's always nice to come across well done fights. The end is wonderful. I LOVED the end. This is another reason that I try to get to the end of books, even if I get bored here and there or if the pacing is a bit odd to my eye.
Well done, Monica.