Michelle West – Hunter’s Oath

Although Hunter’s Oath (1995), the first book of The Sacred Hunt duology, is Michelle West‘s first novel set in the Essalieyan universe it is advised to read it after the first three books of The House War. I followed this advise and can only agree to this statement. The events of Hunter’s Oath occur simultaneously to the first two books of The House War although there is no overlap of any kind. To me the reason why to read Hunter’s Oath afterwards is that The House War provides a more solid introduction to the universe.

Hunter’s Oath starts a bit clunky as West spends a too little time in her introduction to build some characters before she moves ahead in time to events that really matter. In a way I can understand the difficulty of the choice. One could change the introduction into flashbacks added in later but those could disrupt the flow of the narrative too much. Fortunately, as the introduction is kept rather short one will forget about it soon when the action kicks in. A secondary storyline kicks in which is rather more sudden as there is no introduction here. There is, I think, no way to do it differently, but it creates a contrast to the other storyline that did have an introduction. Here the reader is thrown in the middle of unknown events involving new characters we know nothing about. As I had read The House War first I had already been given the missing introductions to those characters so they felt familiar to me. I’m not sure how a new reader would respond to it so I have to imagine it. It is one reason why writing this review is a bit more complicated than usual. I am comparing with another set of novels all the time while I should try to keep this book apart from them.

Although some characters lack a decent introduction other characters that played a side role in The House War have a far better introduction and we get a greater understanding of who they are. We certainly get to see a lot more of them and where they were more mysterious characters there they become less so here as they take more center stage.

The plot itself keeps a steady pace, quite faster than the House War, and events occur in a steady flow. West puts in her moments of contemplation and adds details where possible to provide a greater worldbuilding as she describes a unique culture. Aside from the unstable beginning the story keeps its footing for the rest of the novel. The plot itself is not that solid. One of the main drivers of the plot remained poorly explained. I could not find the real starting point although later events covered it up a bit. The plot itself is fairly straightforward but not predictable.

Hunter’s Oath is overall an entertaining novel with original and interesting characters that provides an engaging read. There are some weaknesses in the beginning, but these are quickly forgotten once the story grabs hold. Reading the first three books of The House War will not spoil anything told in this novel as the events take place outside of those in The House War. As it is in a different pace and in a very different setting it has a different feel to it while providing familiarity through characters that take center stage here. Recommended.

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