Many swear by Abercrombie and his First Law series, which this continues to expand on (set one generation later, it features characters out of the first series, their children, as well as characters from the spinoffs), but I am torn.
On the one hand, there is no doubt Abercrombie is a master storyteller with a far greater claim to “realism” in pseudo-medieval fantasy than, say, G.R.R. Martin, able to conjure up both engrossing landscapes of pre-modern society and attaching characters. That he has a decent understanding of pre-modern warfare also helps his military campaigns plot lines.
On the other hand, Abercrombie’s cynicism (“everybody is either weak or evil in the end”) is a real turn-off. The first series sacrificed all investment your might have made into its protagonists for the sake of an “if magicians existed, they’d be the biggest dicks of all” message (not that I quibble with that one; as an intellectual exercise, it has its value. It’s the way all hope and humanity is crushed out of the protagonists I object to). This one does a wee bit better in that specific regard, but heaps bucketfuls of scorn on revolutionary movements, with its French Revolution / October Revolution / Luddite Rebellion amalgam not only pointless (yes, counter-revolution and restoration exist, but they are slightly more complex phenomena than “and everything is back to the status quo, just worse”), but turning out to be driven by a small shadowy cabal. If that doesn’t make you cringe, I don’t know what will.
And yet I keep returning to Abercrombie’s novels for their sheer power as stories, even if they tend to leave an ashy taste in my mouth … though I am not sure how many times more I will.