Originally 3 stars, but then that thing happened to Coltaine...(show spoiler)
If you're looking for a way to get into this series and the first book Gardens of the Moon is just too much of a chaotic uphill climb, skip it and start with this one instead. Come back later if you really want to know how events were set in motion. I wish someone had given me this piece of advice when I first got into this series. It would've made all the difference and saved a lot of time.
The thing with Erikson's writing is that it's all show and very little tell. It's plot driven and these events have been put in motion prior to the start of the series. You don't find out what these events are until you unravel the mysteries, one doorstop of a novel at a time. Like Gardens, this second installment has a couple dozen main characters and a hundred secondary characters, all of whom you should remember but most likely you won't. Unlike Gardens, there are more character development and explanations (not info-dumps). Also, there's less chaos, which makes for a smoother read and easy-to-follow intersecting story lines.
This book starts off in the dessert, half a world away from events in Gardens. Without giving too much away, there's a coup, an uprising, a mass exodus, close-call escapes, pissed off gods, higher powers at work, and, of course, tragedy and deaths. But don't worry. Tragedy is part of the game and death isn't always the end...