Michelle West – The Sun Sword

With this review of The Sun Sword (2004), the final book of six book The Sun Sword series, I reach the nice milestone of 250 reviews, and I am happy it is a good book to discuss at that position. This series is a sequel to both The House War series (albeit only the first 3 books) and The Sacred Hunt duology. In effect it is thus part of an even greater story as The House War continues the story. Even so the series is much contained in a different setting than those series with its own central cast of characters although it shares a fair number with the other series. It does not hurt to mention that much is resolved in this final volume although there remain quite a few open strands for later.

As mentioned in my review of the fifth book, The Riven Shield, Michelle West had to cut her intended final book into two parts. This has its effect on the beginning of The Sun Sword. In the other novels there was every time a build up. This time, except for the prologue, there is none. The story quickly continues from the end of the previous novel although West has moved the story forward unexpectedly. Before long there is an early climax which develops in some strange ways. It quickly follows with the climax to another storyline which had been the odd one within the greater plot. West surprises by making the climax the end of the storyline, although nothing is yet resolved.

Instead of the plot heading for a crash course it takes a sudden turn. Politicking returns when a new mysterious conspiracy is discovered that is reminiscent of The Shining Court’s, the third novel, plot. This conspiracy starts taking center stage and all developments in the center of the novel are related to it. It provides West with the material for some powerful character development and a number of emotional scenes. The central conflict does not seem that important anymore and as any reader might have slowly been guessing throughout the course of the series West is not intent to let things develop in an expected way. The path may seem simple if you look at it from far away but it is full with splits, diversions and knots while other paths aim to overtake it. In that sense there is some very original and creative plotting in the different novels of this series that I have only glimpses of in other fantasy novels. West takes many different elements and a careful and ingenious plot is wrought that elates the reader.

Despite this there is some lack of balance. Each novel of the series has a different plot structure and setup. In the first three novels this worked out magnificently, creating rich and powerful stories. The last three novels are not able to match it. The fourth was relatively poor, the fifth much better and the sixth comes closer to the first three again. That it doesn’t is partially caused by the unbalance within the story. It is more a second part with a pair of climaxes in the first part and in the last part, the latter being the actual finale. In between there is a long middle sequence with a different rhythm and focus. There is a large cast of characters and West can’t give them all equal attention. She makes her choices and on its own that is not bad except that the focus changes between each of the three parts. An additional problem with the last part is that it is the grand finale and this means it involves all the characters at once. For the first time West makes sacrifices. Where before she went into extensive writing to get maximum result from the possible events spending time anywhere. In the finale we only see some short scenes with the different characters and then West leaves them behind to spend her time with the most important characters, leaving the reader in the dark with what happens with the side characters. Unfortunately the reader learns little of what occurred afterwards. West pushes forward to close the story. One can imagine that there is not complete satisfaction as to what West was able to deliver before. Yes, the most important issues are taken care of but West’s trademark of taking care of the details is this time brushed over. This is one of the things that make this final novel not as great as the earlier.

There is a lot to enjoy in this large novel. West explores many themes and provides plenty of variation in events and developments. The story itself hangs a bit out of balance although the average reader will not notice it at first hand as the reading pleasure will be great throughout the book. There are some minor remarks to make about the finale and, and this is a first, it should have been longer as West seems to have cut out some material to prevent the novel going too long (it is over 900 pages).

The whole series is very great. It is original, engaging, with great worldbuilding, and many unique and well developed characters that will connect to the reader. It is not a perfect series, with a slight dip in the fourth and (partially) fifth books. There is however much great intensity, care for detail and it is all written in fine and easy readable prose. Highly recommended.

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