Michelle West – The Shining Court

The third novel in The Sun Sword series by Michelle West carries a number of similarities to the first novel. The Shining Court (1999) for example can be split into two parts with the first being more introductory and the second holding most of the action. Another is that the whole story is a gradual buildup to the finale at the end. In both cases the pace is relatively low and West takes her time.

There are some distinct differences. The first novel The Broken Crown was the beginning of the series so an introductory beginning is not that strange. Actually, after the second novel it looked as if things would get going seriously soon. Alas, that is not going to be the case. As mentioned earlier the first part is again introductory. Although West returns to a number of familiar characters from the first novel the setting is expanded into a direction not yet explored before with a new people and their particular culture. It is not that complex but West takes her time to make sure the reader is well versed with the extra cast of characters. In my opinion there was no need to spend that much time. Second to that West spends a lot of time to provide some background to a character we knew little about yet and now gets to the front. Although the sequence is interesting it is also slow and not very exciting. As the other storylines around it were also carrying a slow pace there was a lack of variation to me. A combination with more action sequences would have been more enjoyable.

Another difference was that the first novel held a strong focus and told a story of its own. With the third novel there are more things going on and West gives them each attention which creates a more unstable focus and each has its own rhythm. There is a greater diversity in characters and events which could be a strength but compared to The Broken Crown this does not succeed at that.

After the plenty action sequences in the second novel the story of The Shining Court is much more about politicking. There are many different factions with different and similar goals. This creates an unusual and interesting palette of developments. The bad guys don’t seem that bad and one gets to sympathize with them.

West introduces a number of characters although I wasn’t that satisfied with all of them. West assumes a certain age for some of them but they act much younger and that didn’t fit. Overall the character development is not as strong as it used to be.

The best part of the novel is the second half. Things start moving and plenty of things start happening. On some parts there is a sudden surge of development that I didn’t see coming. Even so there were some weak parts. There was a rather lengthy sequence of visits. I understood the importance of providing a full introduction, but it was a bit too long for me. Another thing was a looming threat that would shake things up or raise the tension. Surprisingly nothing at all happened and things got done without any trouble. They were not that bad but they were minor disturbances in what otherwise was a very engaging story.

So my final conclusion of The Shining Court is that it is a weaker version of The Broken Crown, which was a powerful opener of the series. It lacks the strong sequence of action events of the second novel which got me going from start to end. Instead The Shining Court’s first half required me to force ahead as it wasn’t that interesting as I hoped for. Despite these things the story turned a number of things upside down, creating a change in the development of the plot that I hadn’t expected, and the second half made up a lot, giving more excitement than that the first novel was capable of. There is still a lot of politicking, but West manages to make it quite interesting, although the pace is relatively slow. As before there are many minor things happening that keep the reader attentive. Overall this is again a strong installment. Highly recommended.


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