I am in such a dither about what to write for a review. I love Fantasy. I love love LOVE originality. I love beautiful descriptions.I did not, however, love this book, even though it had all three of those things. I would just like to say, before I go further, that I didn't mark down this book because of its HORRIBLE ending. I mean, could you have cut us off any more abruptly Robin Hobb??? Sheesh.Anyway, for me, it was the characters and the story (or lack thereof) that didn't do it for me here.Even though the characters (female and male) were well drawn, for me PERSONALLY, there was nothing really redeemable in them. I didn't really LIKE any of them. I started out liking Syntara fairly well, but she proved to be prideful, snarky, and unlikeable. Sedric was a selfish, fussy pig. Alise had no gumption, and let herself be miserable pretty much all the freaking time. And HOW could she not guess about Hess? HOW??? I think Leftrin is probably the only character I could stand.When creating characters that you want people to sympathize with, it's important to give them at least ONE element about them that is a redeeming quality. One thing that makes the reader CARE about what happens to them. Don't toy with our affections. Don't dangle Thymara out like a tasty sweet treat and then let us catch her only to find out that she is just as selfish and annoying as the rest of them. Argh.And the story... it doesn't go anywhere. This book is 553 pages of build-up. That's it. I think you could have safely cut half of it out, and added a proper ending. How in the world could it have taken 553 pages for a group of people to gather together for an expedition? Was all this back story TRULY necessary? I think Fantasy writers have to walk a fine line between world building and detail building. And honestly, I don't see that either of those was successful in this particular case. When I took up the book, never having read Robin Hobb before, I felt like I'd accidentally started with the second book. There is a TON of backstory leading to this series that is explained NOWHERE in this book. That is not cool. Say what you will about Anne McCaffrey, you could pick up any of her Pern series and not have to worry about trying to figure out things the past. First of all, there is ALWAYS a summary of historic events. Secondly, her world building is so fantastic that you don't need the summary.Back to my point... Hobb also builds too much, too slowly when it comes to shaping the characters' stories for this series. You can create good, deeply written characters without having to put in a ton of pages. Was the wedding scene necessary? More than one husband/wife awkward bedtime? Why did we need to read about Leftrin and his discovery? It surely didn't seem to mean much to this first book. There was so much STUFF that didn't need to be in there.Despite those two annoyances, I did finish the book just fine and I was fascinated by the world she created. It wasn't enough to make me want to read the next edition, however.