My two primary beta readers for "Recompense" (corrected) are moving with glacial slowness. Understandable, given that they both have lives and kids to care for. The only solid feedback I have gotten so far is that I need to trim some fat. Um... yeah. I figured that.
My main concern with this one is the villain(s). The reason I waver on single or plural is tied into the concern. Many of my antagonists are sympathetic characters in their own right. Or I think they are. They are doing reprehensible things, sometimes for reasons that most people here and now would find unacceptable. But they are not really evil. Well, one of them is. Ok, two. But even with those two, one of them is less evil, and more amoral. Like a cat. He's just out to survive and devil take the hindmost. Kinda like a U.S. Senator.
To me it's self-evident that nobody is bad or wrong in their own eyes. If they thought they were doing bad things, they wouldn't do them. At least in most cases, again excepting politicians.
The challenge I face, that every fantasy writer faces, is to craft a world with an internally consistent ethical system that is similar enough to our own to be comprehensible. Yet, it also has to leave room for behavior patterns that would get someone either arrested or shot in a heartbeat here and now. Slavery, summary execution by the nobility, religious persecution. Even things like officially sanctioned torture, which still happens under our current system, has to be presented in terms that make it seem different enough to belong in another culture.
The overriding theme of "Recompense" is a conflict between established power structures, who will go to any ruthless extreme to hold power, and an uprising by a long oppressed group who are equally willing to do anything, absolutely anything at all, to gain the revenge that they call justice. But neither group see themselves as evil, and both groups see their enemy as the distilled essence of darkness.
My individual antagonists are ruthless, but so are my protagonists. They are simply ruthless in different ways, with different lines that they won't even consider crossing. The target is to write a villain so real that when he/she goes down, the reader feels triumphant but with a tinge of sympathetic regret. Riding a unicycle across a tightrope might be easier.