Because, seriously, Butcher, you can do better than this! By the final third of the book, I'd gotten to the point where I was just skimming -- still kinda holding out hope that things might take a turn for the better, but ... not really engaged with it at all.
It was just so generic -- basically one of those EveryFantasy books, taking place in the standard pseudo-medieval-Europe (only, as usual, missing most of the things that make the real medieval Europe dramatically interesting, like disease and economic oppression and horrendous racial/religious injustice). The really frustrating thing is that it could have been much better -- the magic system, with its Shinto-ish idea of spirits living in mountains and rivers, is really neat and unusual, and obviously he'd put quite a bit of time into developing the world, but what came out was sort of a cookie-cutter sanitized pseudo-Europe with a cookie-cutter plot centering around your basic cookie-cutter good-hearted farmboy. And then the plot turned out to be a sprawling mess with way too little organization and too many characters. (And I speak as someone who loves complicated plots! But this was just ... too many characters to really care about anybody, too many scene-switches to get into one set of events before we'd jump to another one.)
But the worst part was the racial/sexual stuff -- and, again, I know he can do better; there are occasional things that bug me along those lines in the Dresden Files books (like his tendency to keep reminding us over and over of the characters' ethnicity if they're not white), but never anywhere near like this. I just don't know where to begin with what a fundamentally bad idea the Marat were, in pretty much every way, and the awfulness of the casual way that words like "savage" and "horde" and "cannibal" were tossed around in the book -- especially when so many aspects of Marat culture were rather blatantly patterned on Native American and African cultures. The final twist of the knife was that little bit of Aleran history that we got near the end, that the Alerans had come here from elsewhere and basically driven out or subdued all the indigenous cultures, which basically just hammers home the (accidental?) Alerans=Europeans metaphor and makes the portrayal of the Marat as savage invaders (or, at the end, naive innocents confused by the trappings of "modern" Aleran culture) even more disturbing.
On the gender side -- like I've mentioned before, I'm not especially sensitive to gender issues in general, and especially in fantasy or historical fiction, I'm very tolerant of women's social roles, status in society, and the language used by the other characters to describe them being very different from what would be acceptable in the modern world. Having said that, the slave-collar/rape scene sent my ick-o-meter right off the scale, especially combined a few other, little ick-inducing things, like the way that sadistic Odiana was always referred to as a "water witch" (in the narrative as well as by the other characters) while good-guy Isana, with the exact same powers, was always called a watercrafter. I'm not saying "Jim Butcher is a raging mysogynist!" because, well, he obviously isn't; he's always had good, well-rounded female characters in all of his books, including this one. Which makes it all the more bizarre that the book would suddenly come out of nowhere with a very squick-inducing scene of forced servitude and rape. It's not that you can't ever deal with those topics in a book, of course -- it's just, there are some treatments of that sort of scene that really emphasize how awful it would be for the victim, and some that sort of give you the idea the author's playing out a fantasy. This was ... more the latter, unfortunately.
On the surface, Isana getting to become a steadholder at the end seems to be a "yay, girl power!" moment -- but, uh, actually it's not, because I was just totally weirded out by how little resistance there was to the idea. The first female steadholder ever? And it's so casual, and nobody objects? See, I could totally see her assuming the role informally, with Bernard remaining the titular head of household while Isana takes on most of the actual power and duties, but ... formally codifying it like that just felt wrong -- it felt wrong for their society as it had been presented up to that point, it felt totally wrong for the way that rural people act and the way that gender prejudice and established gender roles work in a medieval-ish society. It's just one step removed from the king waving a hand and declaring "There shall be no gender prejudice throughout my land!" and lo, because he said it was so, then it shall be so ... and I know that's a really silly example, but that's exactly how it felt in the book.
... okay. Enough griping. At this point, I think I'd have to be really hard-up for reading material to even think about buying another book in the series. It's a good thing that I read the Dresden Files books first, because this wouldn't have left me with a particularly good opinion of Butcher as a writer. (But the new Dresden book comes out on April 1! I shall console myself with that.)
EDIT: Oh, hey, I forgot to mention another thing that drove me crazy about the book, and that's the way that (apparently) major events would happen and then have no consequences for the plot or characters. For example, Bernard coming back from the dead! I was expecting major fallout from that, like he ends up undead or something, especially since they'd made a big deal about what a terrible risk it was -- but Isana sleeps for awhile, and everyone's fine and it's never mentioned again. Or everything that happened with Isana and Odiana, and everything we found out about Odiana's past -- at the end of it, she goes back to Aldrick and, after acting like a halfway normal human being while she was with Isana, as soon as she gets back with her old circle of friends she's back to being a giggly sadist ... everything that happened with the slave collar and the connection she appeared to be forming to Isana is just thrown out the window; it didn't change her at all. AAAAAARGH.