Michelle West – The Riven Shield

In the foreword of The Riven Shield (2003), the fifth book of The Sun Sword fantasy series, author Michelle West states that she had to split her final book into two parts (where have we heard such things before?) as it had become much longer than expected. She apologizes for not being able to provide a more rounded plot like her previous novels. In reality most fantasy series barely have rounded plots per novel although I have to admit that this has improved over the past decade, although I might be biased because I am picky in what I read. The apology is actually overrated as some of the plots of the previous novels of the series were not that strong either. Now that I’ve read The Riven Shield it has more than sufficient plot of its own and has a reasonable finale.

What The Riven Shield still suffers from is that West goes too much into details and expands her scenes to full measure, causing a relatively low pace and the abundance of words to describe it all. It is well written so that the reader is sufficiently entertained and barely notices it. It is when the reader gets to the end that he realizes that the overall plot has moved little. West managed to handle this far better in the first three novels, where her detailed writing benefited the story and held a steady powerful flow. While she has improved from the fourth book, Sea Of Sorrows, she is not up to par yet in The Riven Shield. She is a bit driven to create a number of important meetings between certain characters and spends much time to set it up and play it out while there isn’t the fireworks that could have been and would not have been expected. The same happens with a carefully set up secondary storyline that does not lead up to much as it would only divert her more from the goal she is aiming at. It is all a little shallow, not hitting the right buttons as she did before.

I am not completely truthful about The Riven Shield. It holds many engaging and strong scenes that I enjoyed very much. They were however mostly relatively short and scattered throughout the novel. There is a large cast of characters, all quite unique and original, that she handles in an easy way although she has not got much time to spend time on them as she could before. In the earlier novels she could limit the scope by using a narrower plot for each book. In this first of the final books she has to move everything forward which also means giving sufficient attention everywhere. Not all of the events seem that relevant. There were opportunities to shorten the material although not enough to reduce the two final books to one.

The fifth book of The Sun Sword series is a rich and detailed novel. With the different storylines now needing to converge West still moves the story in her own way. What I expected to be the central part of the overall story does not happen and is moved until the very end. In a way I am somewhat baffled by it. To be honest it is a good thing to tell a great story without reverting to what seemed to be the core of the story and change it to something very different. I have no clue now how the actual final book will play out. It could be anything. Unfortunately for this novel, and I can see now why West apologized in her foreword, is that we see a convergence of storylines and she has to cut it not far from the expected convergence. This means that this novel has a more ‘middle book’ feeling than the other books. It lacks the steady drive or buildup of the story and while it has a nice finale, it is not as strong as before.

As a whole The Riven Shield is a big improvement to Sea Of Sorrows but falling short of the first three novels which to me stand out much in their high quality and power. It will be interesting to see if West can take me there again in her last novel, although the fact the story in two and the first part of it didn’t impress me as the others did, make it a hard to achieve. Either way, I have enjoyed this series greatly until now. The only serious weakness can be found in the expanded scenes which West enjoys too much and could use some editing to make them more concise and stronger. Recommended.


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