I just finished reading book 2 of Jane Lindskold's Firekeeper series - Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart. I enjoyed this even more than the first book. It built on the previous conflicts, introduced new characters and threads, and still felt like an authentic continuation. Firekeeper and Elise have particularly intriguing evolutions during the course of the novel, but a lot of the characters grow and change, even those who aren't the focus.
This is a great example of a novel that takes a fairly common fantasy setting and some familiar tropes - and does some awesome things with them. The setting is richly detailed, the characters are three-dimensional and well-illustrated (even the "villains"), and there are several surprises in the execution. I got really caught up in the risks to the characters in the latter part of the book.
Handled particularly well is Firekeeper's continued efforts to combine her wolf outlook with her human nature. I also thought the expansion into New Kelvin was skillful. It was very different from the two countries that took up the first book, but it didn't feel slapped on or non-sequitor. I even liked the way Elise's romantic subplot was handled: it's a refreshing change from the usual romance tropes - unrequited love, love-hate, comic misunderstanding, star-crossed lovers - that develops towards a mature outlook.
Certainly, there are aspects of the book that annoyed me. It's less prevalent in #2 than it was in #1, but augh! The heraldry! Trying to crush your brain into who is related to who, and how, and how that affects their social standing ... some of it is color and you can breeze over it, but some of it is pretty crucial to the story. It seems that understanding this kind of develops by osmosis - even if you're not following it, keep reading and it will gel. There is an appendix; I don't think I resorted to it.
I also sort of felt that the history between the Royal Beasts and the humans had kind of "been done" a few too many times, but it's certainly an archetype well supported by real history.
That said, I highly recommend this book. I think a reader will enjoy it more as a continuous thread from Through Wolf's Eyes, but it seemed to me it was well-designed to carry a new reader without making the previous readers feel bogged down. There's more skill right there.
And without having to read the back, I have a good inkling as to some of the directions the next book(s) is/are going ...