Just finished reading FotK last night. Late last night.
I read it, and I'll probably read it again, but I found it a disappointment in comparison with its predecessor.
Swordspoint succeeded on many, many levels. As a "melodrama of manners", the plot held humor, pathos and politics, centered on a romance between a very odd couple from the opposite sides of society. It feels like a fantasy novel, with swords and dukes and long-haired scholars, but the names are English, and there is no hint of magic, except possibly a reference to wizards defeated with the old monarchy, which leads to the current noble oligarchy.
The prose is spare and elegant, and while there is exposition, it is kept to a minimum - far more is shown than told. Still, by the time the story is over, I felt I knew this society - or at least its upper- and lowermost components.
And the love story in the middle is lovely and touching - the swordsman is amazed that he has a "young gentleman" to share his poverty. He'd be happy to just hear Alec speak, so to have him in his bed is better still. He happily kills for him, and decorates his hands with fine jewels, and keeps him from killing himself, and refrains from asking any questions such as, say, his last name.
We don't know how Alec feels directly, but he voluntarily returns home in order to save his lover from a death sentence and then goes back to him in the slum they shared.
And the sex scenes, both with Alec and Richard and with - I found these to be very erotic in their gentleness and subtlety. There is power in lines such as
"Alec lowered his lover to the floor. First he was rough, and then he was gentle."
In contrast, Fall of the Kings fails on those very points. The prose is lusher, which actually may fit this better - if the earlier book is Austenesque, it makes sense that a book set sixty years later feels more Dickensian. But it causes the book to lose a lot of power. And now there is magic - in an odd twist, it is the forces of rationality that are wrong and which fall to the rigors of scholarship and research, so that magic is proven to exist.
The central couple are...well, they are transgressive because one is a scholar and one is nobleman playing at being a scholar, much like his father (Alec, whom he's never seen because he died two months before Theron was born.) Each are advised by their colleagues/peer group to break off the romance for political reasons. But, because Theron is a scholar, or at least wears the robe and long hair of one and because he is his father's son, and because his lover is the equivalent of a tenured professor at his university, it doesn't *feel* transgressive, and the m/m is simply not a factor. There are other m/m *and* f/f romances.
The sex scenes, while still far from explicit, lack the subtlety of the earlier novel and also their power, so they are not as erotic to me. More erotic was another young couple "sleeping naked in each other's arms." Also, it became clear that one was using the other, and that he was more in love with, well, history and ambition than with the beautiful dark haired boy in his arms.
Yeah, there is a slight feel of Clark and Lex there, but not nearly to the same level that Alec and Richard felt like Beecher and Keller.
I'm thinking that a lot of the differences came about because the author of the first book wrote the second in collaboration with *her* SO, who writes historical novels. The original author is writing a third novel set midway between the first two, and on her own. We will see.