This book could have been really great.
I initially found this book engaging-- the heroine, Ticca, is a pretty charming mix of new to this level of her job and well trained. Basically, she's clearly competent and well trained, but hasn't had a lot of time and experience on the job yet, and she shows it with things like her flashy moves claiming her Dagger table. This isn't actually a combo I see a lot of with heroines-- well-trained but new; cocky, but justifiably so. So that was nice. The dude, Lebuin, was also a pretty charming mix of vain but competent, albeit in his research areas. (Very Ivory Tower, Lebuin is.) I found his surprise at having to go on a Journyman's Quest rather incredulous, but I was willing to buy it.
Where things really started to go downhill was about a third of the way through, when Duke starts getting involved. I'd had some vague suspicions about what the Daggers were patterned on from pretty early on, but then I read a LOT of mil. sci fi, so it's not a new trope to me. Until this point, the world building had been interesting-- focusing on the story, but with intriguing hints of backstory. However, when Duke started to get POV bits, it started becoming VERY clear that the author had spent A LOT of time on his world building and Really Wanted You To Notice It.
He tried to be clever about it, and reveal it with the story, but that meant introducing so many new threads and POVS that I VERY quickly started losing interest. It wasn't intriguing anymore, it was dicking the reader around. And then he had so many pieces in play that he had to start shorting the "main" plot with Ticca and Lebruin, and doing things like having Lebruin spend AN ENTIRE YEAR in a magical dream, training to be a fighter over the course of maybe two pages. Ticca later does a similar thing. AN ENTIRE YEAR. TWO PAGES. The pacing was a bit rocky the first third, but in the second half of the book, it's really, really terrible.
When you finally get the reveal about how this world way made the way it is, it's in the midst of a cliff hanger ending, and buddy. I know cliff hanger endings are supposed to be cool or whatever, but you still have to end enough threads that the books feels complete. This book does not feel complete. It felt like he couldn't stand to look at the damn book anymore and said screw it, I'm done. Regarding the world building reveal, I really sympathize with his desire to show it off, because it sounds like a really cool idea! Displaced space marine helps organize a world after a magiopoclypse? No wonder he goes for structures he knows. But at this point I was so tired of this book and just wanted it to end, so I just sort of rolled my eyes and skimmed the author's note at the end.
Shitty pacing, really bad handling of POV switching, and too much obsession with showing off how clever the world building is. Really disappointing, because it's so highly rated AND the characters were interesting.