So what I conclude is that while Everything Is On Fire (Sometimes Literally), I really can't handle reading anything that requires emotional engagement if the payoff is not guaranteed. These were mostly re-reads, but some of them I'd only read once before, and for others it'd been so long that I had forgotten vast swathes of plot, so it's not like it was all well-trod territory. By the time I got to the new ones, I felt confident about how they would go, so they were safe, but new fiction by authors I don't know is a lot more iffy.
Herewith, some thoughts about Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar novels:
The Misenchanted Sword
The interesting thing about this book is how much epic fantasy happens entirely off-screen. There's quite a bit, and sometimes it's even things the main character is involved with, but the focus is instead on his very mundane concerns and how he deals with them while also managing the complications associated with the titular premise.
With A Single Spell
This one pretends to have a Hero's Journey shape to it, but keeps going off the rails. I'm not sure I'd call it a full-on subversion, but it definitely fails to go in expected directions in a very intentional way.
The Unwilling Warlord
I wasn't sure this was the book I thought it was until about two-thirds through, when it takes a hard left turn into a totally different storyline which has more of the details that stuck in my brain. Probably the most "somebody totally out of their depth just trying to be clever enough to get by" book of them all.
The Blood of A Dragon
The main character is stubborn and kind of unlikable for most of the book, and most of his problems are due to his own bad judgment, but he's also twelve years old, so at least he's got a good excuse. A decent ending that probably isn't really deserved, but I didn't mind it.
The only one I didn't re-read completely; I skipped about half of it, because the main character is a self-deluded dope who spends all his time pining after someone who's just awful and I had no patience for it.
The Spell of the Black Dagger
Lots of firsts in this book: first book with multiple viewpoints, first female protagonist, first female antagonist, first book that builds on previous ones at more than just the cameo level. It's interesting how much the good guys are shown having incorrect hypotheses in their investigations.
Night of Madness
Goes back and builds out lore that has been referred to in previous books. Also has probably the most heroic protagonist.
Much lower-stakes than the previous two, with a teenage protagonist. Still fun.
The Spriggan Mirror
The Ethshar books are mostly stand-alone, though I expect the world-building is probably better if you read them in publication order. This is the first one where I think you'd seriously miss out on things if read before the books it builds on, since it features major characters from a previous book as important secondary characters. Many of the books hand out a love interest to the main character near the end of the book, but in this one it's a little weird.
The Vondish Ambassador
I honestly went through most of this book not remembering any of it and wondering if I had managed to buy it and put it on my shelf without ever reading it, but near the end it hit parts that had stuck in my memory. Another definite follow-on.
The Unwelcome Warlock
The first one that was new to me and not a re-read! This one is the only one I'd call a serious sequel that should not be read until after its predecessors. Builds on The Unwilling Warlord, Night of Madness, and The Vondish Ambassador. Higher-level drama than most.
The Sorcerer's Widow
Quite short and much more stand-alone than all but the first couple books. Took me a while to figure out what the weird names are references to; saying them out loud helps.
Relics of War
Good so far, but it hit a little bit of emotional tension and I got stuck, so that's definitely what's going on with my brain. I think I can restart it, though; I trust this series.
Haven't read this one yet.