While my memories for his older novels (of which I had not read in over a decade) were fond and kind, I cannot say this novel will be anything but a repugnant aftertaste in my mouth.
No, the world-building is not flawed, and the prose is not bad. What he does do though, is drive home something I really sick and tired of. You see, the Usgar here are a tribe of violent men (and even women, at times) who often are depicted as raping and torturing women of other towns and tribes, and even their own. For the most part, it is passing mentions I could gloss over. You do not need graphic depictions of rape to make someone understand it is bad. In the beginning, this is where it stands, which I could tolerate. So it when a fourteen year old girl is raped by a thirty-something man is put to paper in detail, I began to question some things.
For one, why is the only healthy relationship in the novel presented to us like children? Why are the love scenes between two people who actually care for each other just sly kisses and coy remarks? If Salvatore believes his readers are mature enough to sit through his rape, then he should at least extend the same courtesy and show us that healthy sex is also a thing in his world. But, we wouldn't know, would we? Past tense mentions of lovemaking do little to combat that healthy sex is what's taboo here, and not rape.
Perhaps, in this world, it is true. But when you have a tribe of men so firmly cemented with violence against women, why do we need a detailed rape scene of a 14 year old girl? (I may be off on her age by a year or two). If he had begun the scene, then faded to black on that, I would be just as disgusted with what happened to her, only I'd be far less angry he took the time to make me sit through that, while offering up the other sexual relationship like I was a five year old.
Probably, this is not a deal-breaker for many. It's two pages in a few hundred, but combined with the numerous other mentions of rape (and some of the minorly detailed ones, of which I believe there are two or three), and I just can't help but only remember how incompetently this novel stumbles around the treatment of rape. It's a tool for shock and awe, and little else. Any meaningful context and insight is lost in a world where even the women of the Usgar expect and accept their husbands to rape the other women, even when ultimately, *they* hold the strongest of powers—the magic. It confused me, and it was danced around oddly, as even the protagonists only 'friend', a motherly like tutor, tells her after she is raped (and watches the rape) that she must just accept it. There is not even compassion here, only frustration.
The novel's strong points? The antagonist demon, detail in the world, and uniqueness of peripheral characters. I'll leave it at that, for I don't eve care for those anymore.