I've heard that one problem with those books is that there's not really enough distinction between anti-heroes and heroes, so you can't tell whether you're meant to approve of the characters or not. I've held off on reading them because of that.
so you can't tell whether you're meant to approve of the characters or not
*tilts head* This is a compliment, surely? It means the author's opinions are being firmly hidden. (I bought the first one and got bored and distracted halfway through, which may or may not be a symptom of a similar issue, but I suspect is more a symptom of the fact that MOST writing doesn't grab me, nowadays)
Not if the character is meant to be an anti-hero or a hero- and that's what I'm talking about here, rather than characters that are meant to be just people. (They are the ones that I prefer, but it's less relevant in this discussion). If there's no context of morals that the character acts against, either inherent in the narrative or given through the invented cultures, then the character can't be an anti-hero. My impression of the books, through admittedly second-hand information, is that characters go around doing "shocking" things all the time, but the weight of the "shocking" things is simply lost because people in the book do not act sufficiently different.
Well, many of the characters are total bastards, and the world as a whole is rather depressingly violent, ignorant and backwards (sort of like the 10th century Earth it was based on). However, some of the protagonists (like the sorcerer Drusas Achamian or the prostitute Esmenet) are actually fairly good people. As for whether you are 'meant' to approve of characters or not, the author is a philosopher, and he draws heavily on (and is perhaps subtly critiquing) the ideas of Nietzsche, so moralistic approval (or the lack thereof) of characters is probably something he is trying to consciously play with.