Michelle West – Battle

If I hadn’t already recently read twelve novels by Michelle West I would say it had been a while since a read an outstanding novel. Not that all those novels had been superb. There were weaker ones and only some I noted as excellent which always makes it hard when reading them closely after each other as you start to compare them to each other instead of on their own merit. What makes Battle (2013) different is that it is the fifth book of The House War series and in essence it is a middle book as the first three novels formed a set and the fourth set off a new sequence many years later. Battle is much about the consequences and after effects of the fourth novel, Skirmish, so that makes it even more unusual that it has proven to be better as it is by no means a novel one can start with. So I will start with naming why this novel stands out from the others.

Most important is the character development. Previously there was some moderate character development and these were just side effects of the events undergone by the main protagonists. In general they still behaved as we had gotten to know them. In this novel West (finally) gives many of them a welcome change. Like when I first got to know them I once again got to experience familiar characters in a different way and that was intensely satisfying.

Very enjoyable was the deepening of the fantastical elements in the story. In the earlier novels West moved in relatively familiar territory. There were some minor explorations but they were just glimpses. The novel Skirmish already introduced some nice things but Battle takes it all to a new level. It is just swarming with original fantastical concepts and ideas. This may depend on the reader’s taste. For me it was grand. Fantasy is often taken too easy. It has endless possibilities and most authors stay within close boundaries. Not that such is a bad thing. One creates a world or universe and it has to have rules and limits. One usually doesn’t imagine to create rules and limits that go beyond the familiar. West stayed at that level for quite some time and with Battle she has completely broken through it. She handled it quite well and I have to add that I have taken it as it came and not thought too much about it. One has to do that sometimes.

While the different novels have not been lacking revelations this book holds a few important ones, including one the reader will have been waiting for a long time. West had been pushing it a long time. It was a secret kept in full daylight. Everyone saw it while West just kept brushing over it.

The novel has a slightly better pace than the previous one which had a rather large density. There are some moments of contemplations although West has so much story to tell that they are just minor moments for the reader to breathe in. I certainly could not stop turning the pages. I am almost amazed I was able to get some sleep.

So are there things to complain about? It is hard to say. Even though it is a sort of middle book West manages to provide the story with something of a starting point, skipping straight to where the action begins again. One could say that handling so many events¬† made West sometimes take the easy path. Like Skirmish the ‘chuckle’ disease sometimes pops up but it occurred less and so didn’t leave an after taste. There are also some scenes which play out a bit too friendly. West wants to impress a bit too much at times and several threats are countered without much consequence.¬† These are all just minor things if one start looking well into the material. I don’t think any novel is perfect as I like many different types of stories and an author has to make choices in what to use. The cases above are, I think, side effects of West trying to fit in certain plot elements in a logical way while making it not seem too easy or convenient. So in fact she tries to reduce the effects.

The only bad feeling that I had about this novel is that this was the last novel of the series available and I couldn’t continue until the next installment comes out. I have to say that I haven’t read thirteen novels by one authors in such a short span of time. Fortunately I could cram in some others to give me some breathing space and let it sink in. It has been a while since I found some great books to read although I am still pleasantly surprised I manage to discover so many hidden gems as I read a lot.

I can only conclude by giving this novel my highest recommendation. Just make sure to read all the previous books before starting with this one. Compared to the relatively slow style of most of the other novels this book doesn’t give you time to immerse yourself into the story. You are pulled in and escaping is nigh impossible. Why would you want to escape?


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