In the previous novel, 'Fortress in the Eye of Time', Tristen, the Shaping made by ancient wizard Mauryl Gestaurien before his death, had defeated both the human enemy and the evil sorcery of Hasufin Heltain. Now, certain that the world no longer needs him, he disappears. However, turmoil engulfs the land again, and he is needed. Uwen, Tristen's trusted friend, was given the power to recall him to the world in a time of need, and he does so, starting off 'Fortress of Eagles'.
Playboy prince Cefwyn suddenly finds himself a King, yet that's the least of his problems. He soon discovers his twin redheaded lovers are actually evil sorceresses, and if that wasn't enough, he finds his true love. Only, she's the daughter of the King of Elwynor, his bitter enemy for countless generations. Beset by troubles, he finds Tristen to be loyal, trustworthy, and honest; rare qualities, and valuable ones for a man in Cefwyn's position. However, his friendship with Tristen is also controversial, and is the cause for great enmity with the Quinaltine Church, for whom magic is a heresy punishable by death.
Cefwyn finds being a King is far from easy. His father before him was a weak man, and the Lords of the Realm took whatever they wished from him. However, when they discover Cefwyn cannot be as easily coerced, the northern lords plot his overthrow. And the pretext? The lovely Elwynim Princess, Ninevrise, whom Cefwyn is so taken with. Assailed on all sides Cefwyn quickly names Tristen the Lord of Ynefel, as he is heir to Mauryl, the previous Lord. He is also granted Lordship of Althalen, a ghostly city where a major battle once took place. Finally, he is named Duke of Amefel, thereby replacing the twin sisters and their Uncle, who do not take kindly to the demotion. Tristen's promotions anger the nobles, and Cefwyn fears he may be forced to choose between his love and his friend, a decision he cannot bear to contemplate.
As in 'Fortress in the Eye of Time', Tristen continues to be developed strongly, and the book gets increasingly interesting as he discovers more about himself, and scratches the surface of his magical heritage. Uwen, Tristen's loyal friend, is also fleshed out nicely. In fact, he becomes very much like Sam Gamgee in 'Lord of the Rings'. A painfully simple and unceasingly loyal man who seems to know just enough to bail his companion out of sticky situations, while at the same time allowing the reader insight into events which would otherwise be absent. Once again, Cherryh's characterization is very strongly done.
As one might guess, there's a much stronger political emphasis in this book than in 'Fortress in the Eye of Time.' Cherryh crafts some excellent conspiracies and plots, which serve to make the book that much more interesting. This is a double-edged sword however, as the new political perspective adds a plethora of names which are difficult to remember. It seems we meet new Lords and Ladies every few pages, and it's almost redundant as many of them have no significant part in the various political machinations.
Finally, there's the issue of the maps again. The atrocious and useless map from the first book is sadly included yet again. This time, there's also a map of the Zeide, the inner castle in the city of Henas'amef. Again, terribly drawn, and for all intents and purposes, useless. All in all, a far cry from the beautiful maps of 'The Wheel of Time' or 'A Song of Ice and Fire'.
So, to wrap up, 'Fortress of Eagles' is roughly on par with the first novel in the series, but falls a little short. Still, it's an engaging book, and expect to be up late yet again.