Feast of Souls - Celia Friedman
I was in two minds about this book all the way through it. The premise seemed a pretty decent one - magic is used by burning life force; witches burn their own, magisters burn others', so witches die soon and magisters live forever; Kamala is a witch that (understandably) wants magister power, but in getting it inadvertently ends up opposing nearly all the existing magisters - and so I was hoping for some good, grey-area discourses on the costs of power, as well as a bit of dark and morally-ambiguous fantasy. Both of those facets are there, it's true, but unfortunately so is a whole load of other unwelcome fantasy cheese.
Kamala herself is a very interesting character, an ex-child prostitute whose sympathetic backstory adds a nice edge to her hunger for control, and the first appearance of some evil soul-sucking dragonflies appeared to promise some pleasantly nasty bad guys. However, half the plot was then taken up with Kamala's (unconscious) victim, the stereotypical Noble Prince With Bad King Father (yawn yawn) and some nonsense storyline about an ancient evil rising again in the North, held back by a weakening magic barrier (now why does that sound so familiar?). Sacred magic bloodlines are one of those clichés I would happily see the back of, and that whole segment really detracted from what was becoming quite a good story. It didn't help that the internal plot details made it quite hard to suspend disbelief - for example, it seemed rather unlikely that the magisters would have been able to keep the source of their power secret for so long, and I was less than convinced by the (immortal, invulnerable) magisters' creed of never killing each other. Luckily there were a few more interesting characters (magisters, witch-queens and the like) to keep me reading past the boring "mad king influenced by scheming wizard" parts and the painful Star-Crossed Lovers sub-plot.
Approaching the end, I was fairly convinced that I wouldn't bother reading the sequels... until I got to the very last part, and decided that maybe I wouldn't rule them out after all. It's a real shame that the book was so patchy, because the good bits were very good, and I may well even get round to reading part 2 someday, but if hackneyed crap annoys you, then Feast of Souls requires some fortitude.