Liking A Cast of Stones as much as I did, I bought A Hero's Lot (on sale for $6.99 at the time - woohoo) and jumped right in when I finished book one.
It has what I call "second book problems." Usually, an author's first book has the snot polished out of it for years and years before publication. Book two may be started but it's rarely finished until book one comes out and then it's rushed into the market to take advantage of the excitement book one caused. This means book two hasn't had the snot polished out of it and the rough edges show.
The author tried some new stuff and good on him for doing so. He split the storyline into two viewpoints and made it a zipper book (where they all start out together, split apart and then zip back together to conclude). He increased the number of companions around both and juggled giving everyone reasonable face time and depth. He raised the stakes on main protagonist and gave him a seemingly impossible task. All good. All perfectly acceptable things to do in a second book.
Then, I'm guessing with outline in hand and word count goal in front of him, he started writing, checked for spelling errors and handed in his manuscript.
OK, that's harsh, but this reads like a really good second draft to me. If he'd let it sit for six months, he would have opened it up and seen all the little issues that add up to big problems I saw when I read it, fixed those and had another four or possibly five star book on his hands.
It all boiled down to uneven pacing. Things that needed more description didn't get it; things that didn't need it got it. The action dragged in the wrong places and skimmed in the wrong places. "The big reveal" was harped on for several chapters instead of planted throughout, which made it fall flat for me. Too many extremely unlikely coincidences cropped up, more than the ones the author noticed and tried to explain away to me the reader (big no-no, btw. I'm a smart girl. Don't tell me how to think). One example: the two swords of amazing craftsmanship and value just happen to end up in the arena for Errol "the slave" to use instead of being stashed in the prince's vault. Please. The climax was over almost before it started. I didn't cry once, which I should have, 'cause there were a couple of things that should have been touching but weren't.
Had the author let it sit for a while, I have no doubt he would fixed these issues mostly by sprinkling better plants (clues) into the manuscript instead of punching me in the face with them all at once. He did fine in A Cast of Stones.
I could be completely wrong. A Hero's Lot might have sat on a shelf for two years before he pulled it out to give to the publisher. In that case, I have no explanation for the pacing issues in this book other than some major life event distracting him.
Anyway, I give it 3 buttercups because I liked it, it's still a good book, and I will buy the last. Every new author has to find his stride between one book-two-books-multiple books written. He's published twice, hopefully learned both times and has the chance to apply that knowledge in book three.
Happy Friday, dear readers. I'm ready for the weekend.