Michelle West – The Broken Crown

Michelle West starts with a clean sheet after having first read the first three books of The House War and The Sacred Hunt duology in a new grand fantasy series named The Sun Sword, a series composed of six books. Although there are familiar characters from the earlier books who have some minor roles, largely later in the story, most of the characters in The Broken Crown (1997) are brand new. And that is not the only that is new. The setting is completely different. West creates a whole new and complex world where men and women live separate lives in a culturally original and layered society.

As she did in The Hidden City, Michelle West shows a strong gift for starting a story. Along a carefully laid path she introduces and develops the broad cast of characters in a skillful way. While the progression of building her world is relatively slow, and West takes her time to write all she needs, it is nowhere predictable. She creates a strong connection between each character and the reader. Each character is uniquely crafted with flaws and strengths that are wholly realistic.

The novel can be cut into two halves. The first half sets up the new characters and the new setting. It is not all introduction as they also develop the plot to the point where the story really begins. At that point the reader knows where everybody stands within the story and the many complicated relations that are contained within it. West creates a strong focus and immerses the reader completely in the world she has created. There are few action scenes and much of what happens is politicking, although these are presented in such a natural way, without being too obvious, the reader can only enjoy these engaging dialogues that do not sparkle or are crude.

The second half contains many dramatic scenes and some exciting action sequences. Nevertheless it is the restraint that provides a great tension within the story. There is a buildup that is subtle. You think that you can guess what will happen but West deflects expectations with gentle twists that have much impact.

In the second part the setting begins to vary and many familiar characters from the earlier books return to the front as the events that take place have there influence in these familiar places as well. The familiar characters play a more minor role however. West does not give them that much attention as the new characters. As I had gotten to know these characters really well in the House War novels I am not certain how a new reader would respond to them. It was my opinion that they were not given full center stage. They got not more than necessary.

With calm and intricate detail West builds up toward a powerful finale. It is no climax in the traditional sense. There is very intelligent play. None of the central characters are stupid. They all plan and set up their goals without it all being complicated. They need to work together at one time and subtly against the other time. Are there only hollow victories? The reader will not think so and feel great satisfaction.

West has delivered with The Broken Crown a marvelous fantasy novels that is both captivating and engaging. Despite are relatively slow pace there happen many small things that together form something greater. I have other writers try the same and hopelessly fail. West however has succeeded magnificently. I can only compare this novel to The Hidden City which had a different but similar reading experience, although the course taken was more straightforward and the buildup toward the climax start immediately at the beginning. There are barely any real weaknesses or flaws to mention. They are all very minor. West has created a great story and no reader will be able to resist going for the next installment. Highly recommended.


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