|While Westmark (the previous book) and The Beggar Queen (the final book in this trilogy) are excellent books, this is the best, because -- well, because it's the one that has the power to hurt the most as you see what characters you care for are forced into by circumstance, the twists of fate and their own sense of duty.
Former Chief Minister Cabbarus, forced into exile in Westmark plots with the uncle of the King of neighbouring Regia to invade Westmark and re-establish a "proper" society. Theo wanders the country, trying to get a grip on how he feels about the thought of Mickle, the street urchin he fell in love with in Westmark becoming Queen... with himself intended as Prince Consort.
When the invasion begins, Mickle finds herself forced to become a military commander, and Theo finds himself among Florian's "children" again, fighting the Regians as an irregular, eventually rising to the rank of colonel among Florian's forces.
And Alexander takes the chance -- without seeming preachy or heavy-handed -- to present us with just a bit (PG13 rating or so) of the horror of war and what it does to even good people.
Because "Colonel Kestrel", the brilliant and ruthless revolutionary/ guerrilla leader is, also, the gentle Theo, who has never believed in violence as a solution to anything.
Someone has said, more or less, that Alexander is here presenting a parable on the uses and effects of violence, in causes good and not-so-good. He proposes (by example) the question "When -- if ever -- is violence justified in a 'good cause'?", and proceeds to show us (again by example) the answers to that question arrived at by various people of greater or lesser good-will.
And then he hands the reader an even hotter potato to examine than that -- he asks us to consider the after-effects of violence (even "in a good cause") on the people who have found themselves forced into it.
And it hurts -- in a good way -- to see what some people must give up so that others may still have it.
(David Drake presents a much more violent -- and most definitely adult -- look at much the same questions in his military SF novel Redliners.)
In the end, everyone is forced to compromise somewhat, and all appears to be well.
On the other hand, this is> the second volume of a trilogy.