I read this first book of the Fencer Trilogy, and literally found it difficult to put down once I got started! I'll start with the drawbacks, since there are few. The main drawback is the use of rather foul language; while it wasn't oppressively bad, there is enough in there to make it hard to read if you are offended at that kind of language. Second, though some Generals of the Medieval Period were frightening and ferocious (Byzantine General Belesarius being one), I found it a bit incredible that one General with merely 1,000 horsemen could hold vast hordes of tribal clans in check (the Romans alone couldn't do such a feat in Scotland, Rome taking several decades to conquor the region, and then not entirely or permanently. Even William the Conqueror had 5,000 men when he attacked England). Thirdly, the Clan Chieftain (Temrai, I think is his name) seemed a bit young to be this brilliant leader of his people (he becomes chief at 17), and again, though there have been some brilliant young leaders in history, it seems a bit of a stretch ot make a teen-ager who would barely be old enough to have children be this great leader of a vast tribe. Also, in the case of the tribes, many leaders - even as far as the great Genghis Khan - had to literally fight to become the great leaders they were, having to consolidate their power against powerful rivals. The fact that in his tribe, Temrai smoothly becomes the leader is a bit un-dramatic in the very least. Finally, there is some rather modern-sounding terminology used a few times in the story, just enough to make one wonder in what period this story is actually placed. It seemed that it was set somewhere between the 12th and 14th centuries, but at times seemed to be set during the Renaissance. This proived a bit confusing.
Those being said, the book "Colours in the Steel" was a magnificent book in it's strengths. I found the Character of Bardas Loredan to be brilliantly created, as a man trying to live out his life in a city that it would have been easy to be obscure in. He certainly isn't the type to inspire heroism, but when he is thrust into a position of authority (against his own will and judgement), he rises to the occasion. Some of the quotes in the book - especially one in which Loredan tells the Patriarch of Perimaedia that anyone who wants to be a leader and a General shouldn't be chosen as such. It was especially refreshing to see how Loredan uses plain old common sense to prepare the city for the coming war and siege, so far as not even knowing what to say, but having the right words and questions for the city council members when asked to prepare a defense. It makes me wonder if the other great leaders of our history and times were not so different in their lives. The other characters as well, such as the Patriarch Alexius, Athli the clerk, Gannadius,a nd Temtai the Clan Chief were all deep, feeling people who were also brilliantly created. Even the superstitious mind-set that permeated the Middle Ages is brought out with good writing as well, in the incident where Loredan as commander of the city's lower wall defenses used "Greek Fire" against the besiegers, only to be condemned as using witchcraft by the city council. Another good strength was the use of technical language, especially for the different weapons and siege engines. This made it easy to see the different things and objects used in the battle for the city.
All in all, even with the drawbacks, which were basically minor and structural, this book is worth 5 stars, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wishes to read a good book that is set somewhere in the Middle Ages. I hesitate to call it fantasy, as it seemed to me to be much like what happened to the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire with regards to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and not really so fantastic. For centuries, Constantinople was considered impregnable, and unconquorable. What finally brought about it's downfall was the unification of the Muslims under the Ottoman Turks (not so unlike Temrai's tribe), and their eventual use of gunpowder, siege weapons, and ships, not to mention turning the Greek Fire weapon - so famed and deadly in Byzantine hands - against the Byzantine defenders of Constantinople (and Constaintinople itself had at least two walls, if not three). "Colours of the Steel" certainly takes a strong parallel to the Byzantine Empire, right donw to the conquest of Perimaedia. Even the use of the Principle and curses seemed much like what the Roman Catholics at least practised if not believed during the time of the Middle Ages. The first book was extremely good, well written, with believable characters and happenings. More of a historical parallel than a fantasy book, I recommend this book to anyone.