I didn't get into Amanda Downum's first book, The Drowning City (Necromancer Chronicles, Bk 1), the first time I tried it. I loved her second, The Bone Palace, from the moment I picked it up. I think part of the difference is the setting. Bone Palace opens in Isyllt-the-protagonist's home city of Erisín, child of the archetype of Ancient, Elaborate, Secret-Filled City along with Tai-tastigon, Mélusine, London, and New York City. This is possibly my favourite fantasy setting ever, and also affords Downum an emotional advantage. In Drowning City, Isyllt enters as a stranger with 2 bodyguards, entering a new place, whereas Bone Palace opens with emotion-filled operatic drama, as Isyllt's home ground affords her tons of messy, decades-long emotional involvements to fascinate and draw the reader in. Isyllt is a necromancer, the protegé and former lover of the king's spymaster Kiril, a civil servant who investigates murders and has souls trapped or at home in her dark diamond ring. When an anonymous prostitute is murdered, Isyllt investigates, and continues investigating after others are satisfied, not out of a sense of honour - as she says later in the book, honour is often directly opposed to expediency - but out of a need for self-respect, a probable mix of curiosity and conspiracy instinct, and I think a submerged wish for justice for young, indigent, immigrant women such as she once was.
Besides its rich setting and vivid, complex relationships, the novel is an example of what progressive writers are trying to do that works. There are characters of many races (the most common being brown-skinned, although Isyllt is a white northerner), hetero, bi, and homosexual characters, trans characters, intersexual characters, and all of it is absorbed into the complex setting and none of it seems out of place. There are also many, many women characters, which at one point looked odd to me for a moment (as 4 female characters physically adventured their way to a female sorcerer's lair) but then I thought, how many fantasy novels have exactly the same gender ratio, only with males being more common? If you count the king as a significant presence, Bone Palace has 5 major male characters (Mathiros, Kiril, Varis, Nikos, Spider) and 2 prominent male minor characters (Ciaran and Mekaran). If there are also 5 major female characters (Isyllt, Savedra, Ashlin, Phaedra, Khelséa) and 6 prominent female minor characters (Captain Denaris, Azarné, Forsythia, Tenebris, Nadesda, Ginevra) - why not? It's a question not enough authors successfully ask.
One possible flaw I did find in the book is I'm not sure it has enough tragedy... I was expecting more characters to die/stop existing in the living world, leaving desolated characters, whereas Isyllt and others end up desolated mainly by tragedic relationships. I haven't decided whether this works or not yet.