I must confess: I bought this book (second-hand, as I do most books) JUST for the cover.
Mr. Irvine has ambitions for this tetralogy, of which A Shadow on the Glass
is the first volume. He starts with a massive concept: three separate humanoid races/civilizations with ancient conflicts, dating back not only into the darkest reaches of his planet's history, but even further, to when they occupied other planets (or possibly even other dimensions.) At the start of this book, these conflicts and their combatants are so far removed from the present day that they are the subjects only of historical research by the members of the historian/storyteller profession, called "chroniclers." One chronicler, pursuing the equivalent of his masters' thesis, discovers a possible new interpretation of one of the best known stories (the aspiration of every fledgling chronicler), and presses to uncover its truth even when he is warned off by his professors. The story, it seems, is so potentially earthshaking that he is banished from the school.
Meanwhile, a psychically gifted young woman of mixed heritage (product of a marriage between two of the humanoid races) finds herself dragged along on a magician's quest to acquire an ancient artifact from an ambitious and long-lived warlord who himself figures in some of the ancient tales.
Of course, the chronicler and the psychic meet and join forces to uncover the artifact's mysteries and get it back to its true owners. On the way, they encounter still more legendary leaders, find themselves in magical cities, are betrayed, and escape relentless hunters time and again. And after 400+ pages of quest/Rough Guide travelogue, we are hardly further along in solving the mystery or wrapping up any of the open storylines.
As I said, the concept is ambitious. Unfortunately, Mr. Irvine attempts to unveil his worldscape by throwing the reader in headfirst, and his expository skills really aren't up to the challenge of making that sudden immersion in this world an opportunity to swim in the current - rather the reader nearly drowns in the flood of mysterious and unexplained cultural references. Eventually, if the reader stays the course, the backstory is exposed to a degree where not every new revelation further confuses.
It's an interesting story. In the hands of a better writer, I suspect it could be fascinating - as it is, it is merely a chore - and for probably the first time, I am unfascinated enough to forego chasing down the rest of the books.