I loved the high-quality fantasy of this book. I did not read the first book, and that would have been best, to see what came before, but I was able to follow along fine as it was.
The first fifty or so pages, I was a little lost, because we were simply seeing some relatively elite people living their lives and telling their stories or legends, and I didn't know how that would connect to anything. But then we finally meet our heroine from the first book, and our story actually begins.
I very much liked the demons or spirits in this book--they felt very real and Old World-y, and that was cool. The psychology was interesting.
If I didn't know a little about the subject, I would just assume this was set in some sort of 19th-century Russian never-never land. But the book talks about "Rus', " and in college I studied what our Russian history classes called "Kievan Rus." Basically, medieval Russia. So, once you picture that it adds to the whole environment of the story.