When I originally bought the book (on its drop-date in 2013) I couldn't get past the opening scenes feeling like a Mercedes Lackey novel seasoned with Jane Eyre. So I put it down for fourteen months, then tried again. And this time, it was good! The main characters - Mirian Maylin and Tomas Hagen - are both young and determined, with a good set of talents and perspectives between them. Ranged against this pair are the emperor and his army, which are attacking the small country of mages and werewolves.
The opening of the book is a rout of the werewolves by the Imperial Army, followed by the theft of five mages across the battle lines. Then there is the long chase and infiltration, then more plotting, etc. The story follows three different groups of people - the small army band, the mages, and Mirian/Thomas - as they head for a final confrontation.
What saves this story from being typical and trope-erific is the strength of the character development. Huff establishes circumstances which allow for the continual layering of characterization, and lets some of the focal people (who are not our heroine or hero) actually grow and change, too. It's been a while since I've read a book where the heroine is so sure of herself, the hero is willing to both give and take, and they both admit to weaknesses and failings without a lot of useless flailing or death-defying wounds. Also, the romance is pleasantly understated. (Here's a link to a longer, more complete review -from someone else - that gives a really good synopsis of the three layered plot lines: ref)
Of note is the balance of strong male and female characters and leading roles. We have five women working together, various pairings of men (both professional and romantic), and then a male/female duo. This is not nouveau-Disney, where all men are either irrelevant, shallow, or The Enemy. It's also not classic Disney, where the heroine is fine until it matters, at which point she collapses, begs for help, or disappears from the plot.
Tanya Huff is a very experienced author who knows how to put together a solid story. She also has fun and useful turns of phrase that I find both hilarious and touching by turns. I recommend most of her work for the snappy dialog, tight descriptions, and sympathetic characterizations. (If sci fi is more your thing, Valor's Choice was a lot of fun. The bar fight wasn't epic, it was hilarious.) The Silvered probably won't rise to the top three, but I can certainly say I'm keeping it for a re-read someday.
I picked this book up because it's from Tanya Huff. I've enjoyed her since the The Fire's Stone, and a new book/standalone sounded fabulous. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys straight-line-plot fantasy, strong characters, and a dash of steampunk flavoring to their magic.
Books for 2015