To me, the real test of a book's value is the second reading. Oh, I can tell you after the first time through whether it's good or not, maybe whether it's great or not, maybe even if it's destined to be a classic. But it takes two times for me to be able to tell whether I can live without the book -- stick it in one of the boxes that threaten to crowd me out of house and home, maybe come across it years later and dance around the room with it another time -- or whether it needs to go on a convenient shelf because it's going to be a "frequent repeat" (I've read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at least once a year for the last 20 years or so).
I'm cheating a little here. I read Vin Suprynowicz's The Black Arrow twice in rapid succession as soon as it made its way into my waiting hands. But that was awhile back and in the throes of New Book Rapture, so let's consider this the "real" second reading, and the charm. The signed, leatherbound edition arrived shortly before Christmas (thanks, Vin -- and meow, Cat) and naturally got highly visible placement in my collection. From then until yesterday, I constantly found myself picking the damn thing up, thumbing through it, grabbing a favorite passage at random. Finally, I hit this one:
How could a sane man take this power on himself and not wonder, pacing and snarling in the claustrophobic night, "What if I made a mistake?"
Had Dominic Cantari deserved some lesser punishment? But that was the problem with those who committed their crimes in the name of the consolidated state. What black-robed judge would impose any lesser sentence? What jailer would enforce it?
... and that was the knock-down. Say it again, brother. I had no choice but to pull the trade paperback out and dig in for a leisurely third ... er, "second" ... read, front to back (the leather edition will be preserved as best possible for posterity). I just put the book down at page 259 to tell you about it. Again. This book friggin' sings, and it sings many songs ... songs of freedom, revenge, courage, love and, yes, sex (last time I checked, sex was still considered a healthy interest in some quarters). To put it as briefly as possible, The Black Arrow makes you want to fight for freedom even when you're down ... and makes you believe tht it's actually possible to win. Both of those things are important.
Unlike most links, the following one isn't to Amazon or Powell's. For various reasons -- including the fact that Vin and company have been great friends of mine in so many ways (but never in a way that would make me feel compelled to over-hype their stuff; I'm not sure that can be done anyway) -- I hope you'll get the book, and get it directly from Liberty Book Shop. Don't look for it at Laissez Faire. It ain't there (which, by the way, is a major reason why they're not here).