Michelle West – Sea Of Sorrows

After three strong novels The Sun Sword series by Michelle West flounders with the fourth book Sea Of Sorrows (2001). It is not really bad but it does not keep it the level maintained previously. In my earlier reviews I expressed the note of a relatively low pace. With this I meant that the plot does not move forward much but there usually happens more than enough to keep the reader engaged.

It is mostly that where West does not succeed as well as before. The start of the novel is handled poorly. The reader returns to the familiar cast of characters from the end of the third book, The Shining Court, and we discover that they have been waiting. Unfortunately for the reader the waiting is not done yet and we are served with elongated scenes that depict the further waiting and as such the reader is waiting as well for something to happen. The characters aren’t doing anything except perhaps some reflection. Personally West could have jumped to a point more closely to the end of the waiting.

When things start going they remain with little conflict. The dialogues feel somewhat extended and they add very little new information or insight. The only real big event takes place elsewhere. It is actually only one scene and West chooses to expand it greatly by going back and forth with flashbacks. I actually counted the page and came to 80 for the whole sequence. It would not be the first sequence of flashbacks. In the whole book, which is over 800 pages, there are only 3 notable events that provide excitement and each is expanded greatly by adding flashbacks, although the last, which is part of the finale, has an acceptable reason for it. The flashbacks provide some extra background information but they are a bit too obviously inserted.

It is enough to say that Sea Of Sorrows lacks a good plot and that the reader is served with three expanded scenes that are filled up with flashbacks and in between very little of note happens. It is quite poor and has a lot of excess fat. Perhaps a third could be cut down of the length to lose its weaker parts.

The character development has not much room in such an environment. There are a few moments, usually in the more exciting scenes where West can do so but the way she put it forward was not all to my satisfaction. It was sometimes a bit too easy as West made some choices that were not completely logical and only the easiest to get where she wanted to take the story.

Despite my criticism Sea Of Sorrows is still a better than average fantasy novel due to the quality of writing by Michelle West. Where other authors would get me annoyed sooner with a weaker plot it was not that hard to get through the weaker sequences and she was able to put in the events at the right places to lift my mood up again. That does not mean that this novel was not a let down. I had expected West to move the main plot forward after book two, but she created a reasonable excuse to put in book three. With book four I expected the main plot to get into the next gear. There were no obstacles anymore. So it is to my surprise that Sea Of Sorrows was another minor story arc inserted with the main plot again being stalled. As the plot of Sea Of Sorrows was rather convoluted and do not really understand what West intends to do. There are only two more books to go and what I expected to be the main course of the plot appears to have been moved to the very end which will automatically mean we won’t be seeing that much of it. In a way I am a bit worried about the way West has devised the main plot. Although it is very much surprising me in the way it is developing in its non-conformal way it does put the series as a whole a bit out of balance. I am thus quite intrigued in how she will resolve matters with the last two installments.


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