The Claw of the Conciliator - Gene Wolfe
Soooo.... the final verdict? Well, there's more action in this one, and there are attempts at fleshing-out some of the key plot points that were skated over in the first book, but I still didn't like it that much. It did, however, help me to figure out exactly what was missing from the series: a structure.
For a linear story to work, you need to have at least a basic idea of where it's going, what the characters are aiming for and essentially what the point of it all is. Wolfe does drop hints of this, but they are entirely swamped by all the other detail; the plot just seems to meander through a string of unconnected events, all of which seem as inconsequential as each other. Yes, the writing is beautiful, but it maintains exactly the same pitch throughout the book - there is nothing to contrast with the long, wordy descriptions and in the end it all comes to seem like background noise. None of the events stand out, none of the characters stand out; there are just not enough pegs to hang the story on, which is a damn shame as I really wanted to enjoy these books. Think Mozart making lift music, or Rembrandt designing wallpaper - the details are pretty, but the overall effect is just bland.