When I wrote my first review, I wondered for a while if this was really fantasy - or rather, said that up until one particular thing happened, there was nothing that made this particularly fantasy in terms of magic. I'm not sure what genre non-magical but certainly not Earth-based historical fiction would fall under.
The question stands, sort of. The fantasy element in this series is used so sparingly it is barely there. The gods are around, and they have power. They're not intrusive to the story, or even really characters in it, but they are real. That's pretty much the only magic. It reminds me a bit of Guy Gavriel Kay and his reasoning for why he writes the way he does - to give weight to the beliefs of people, rather than having to explain why those folk beliefs are there.
At any rate, we return to Phedre, courtesan extraordinaire, and now, peer of the realm. But the escape at the end of the last book of a major conspirator against her Queen, Ysandre, leaves that throne in decidedly shaky straits. So she embarks on a perilous journey to track down her greatest enemy. Not without conflicted emotions.
We also get more of a tour of the world Carey has created, and it continues to be loosely based on European geography and medieval cultures, with some spin thrown in. And a sect that seems to be part Christian and part Jewish - by which I mean that their theology seems to be vaguely Christian, but their position in society that of Jews in medieval Europe.
I found that this one moved slowly, at first, and I felt for a while like we were going around in circles. Much of what happened was Phedre not being able to make one step closer to her goals, and there was a bit much of that. I don't mind it as part of the book, but George R.R. Martin has spoiled long journeys that don't get you where you're trying to go for me. He did it too much, and now I'm oversensitized to it.
Still, the cultures she runs into on the way are interesting, even if those sections don't really seem to advance the plot. It seems like they're more there to throw another interesting incident on the fire, which might work in a meandering plot, but in one where there is real urgency, it does something strange to the tension.
But there is a lot to like here. The ordeal in the cavern, for instance. Many of the characters. The ending was satisfying. The journey to get there was interesting, but felt at times that the author was trying to cram one more incident in that had no bearing on the main story. Those need to be judiciously used.
In summary, I still liked this quite a lot, but nowhere near as much as I enjoyed the first book, when this was all heady and new. However, I certainly enjoyed it enough to go on to the next eventually.