Archive for May 8th, 2014

Michelle West – Skirmish

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

The House War fantasy series by Michelle West continues after The Sun Sword series with its fourth novel Skirmish (2012). Skirmish takes places 17 years after that third book and in a way it is a direct continuation of one of the storyline within The Sun Sword series. This particular storyline was a bit the odd one out as it told a mostly separate story to the major one that only in a few events was fully involved in the other one.

The plot of Skirmish itself actually takes places during the events of the final novel of The Sun Sword although it is for the most part completely separate from it. This detachment is good as it allows West to give full focus again on one central character and story. It is not that she cannot handle multiple central characters and storylines; to the contrary. West does however rather excel when she has more focus. The plot is more solid and she had more control over the flow as there isn’t that much asking attention.

The plot itself somewhat surprised me. I expected it to have a steady flow forward like the earlier House War novels. Instead Skirmish has more in common with The Uncrowned King, the second book of The Sun Sword series. West creates a dense and intense plot in which all takes place within a short space of time. In fact, so much happens that one can hardly believe West can cram it all in there.

It is not all action that takes place in the novel. There is much politicking and plenty of heavy dialogues. The only thing I was not very satisfied with was the character development. The main character has a group of companions and most of them seem to be rather unchanged after 17 years, when they were just street kids, while they are now long standing members of a powerful House. They still seem to be fairly insignificant and I was sometimes wondering what they had been doing all this time. Even the main character doesn’t handle herself as well as her age and position should. One could claim that the basic character traits of a person don’t change, and I would agree with that, but experience will in most cases allow a person to handle situations and other people in a far better way. I did not see any change on those fronts yet. On a base level they seemed to have remained isolated and sometimes acting like they were still kids. It is the main criticism I can make on this novel.

A minor flaw, which is more of an annoyance on my side is that towards the end of the novel West seemed to revert to some lazy writing. To me this was notable because a lot of characters suddenly started to ‘chuckle’, including some that were totally out of character and inappropriate. Fortunately this occurrence was limited in scope so it didn’t bother me too much. It does make me worry a little that West was taking less care of what she was writing. Her plotting is still excellent, but if the prose might begin to falter that would hurt things a lot more. I have not seen it in any of her other novels so it is certainly something new. I have seen it before in long running series where the author writes down her own feelings on a dialogue or scene, because that is what a ‘chuckle’ is too me. The author has fun with what has been written and then starts to add it at every instance where it matches her own feeling although it doesn’t fit the scene or the character.

I should not give too much attention to such a minor thing. Skirmish is a great novel. It is a real page turner with many unexpected things going on in which West weaves a tale with marvelous experiences and great imagination. It is not too light or too heavy, although there is much detail that keeps a possible fast pace in check. This just makes it a rich story with many great characters, although I have to add here that most of them have been familiar to me from the earlier books. I would certainly not advise anyone to read this novel without reading the earlier ones because one is dropped right in the middle of many events at the start. Highly recommended.