Building on the cast and setting established in Venus and the Sea People, this second volume ramps up the pace and the action while continuing to offer realistic and compelling character development. There is a lot more action than in the first book but the central focus remains the politics of the City and the, often morally ambiguous, struggles of the various residents to achieve success, happiness, and - above all - the attention of the Mentor who holds them in thrall.
Once again this is fantasy with an intelligent, sophisticated edge and once again I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone with an open mind and an active imagination. Some of the concepts that come to the fore here, such as Eala's development of her Art, certainly take us away from traditional fantasy fare and into ideas rooted in an extrapolation of real-world sciences; science fiction, in a very literal sense. The setting bears each new revelation with ease though, and it is clear that the author has great clarity in both the breadth and depth of his vision of the world and its denizens and history. The only area that remains to be at all explored, although there are hints that it will be, are the motivations and nature of the creatures of the forest - the enemies of the City - who so far remain as simply monsters to be killed.
If you found the first volume a little slow for your liking then it's worth noting that the pace very much accelerates here, although equally if you loved the depth and complexity of the first volume then rest assured that none of that is lost and the characters continue to develop and struggle with moral as well as physical threats in Hermes and the Sea People. And if, like me, you were startled by the first cliff-hanger ending then prepare yourself for the end of this one ... volume three can't come soon enough.