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  1. #1
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    Michelle West's Essalieyan Epic

    Michelle West, aka Michelle Sagara West, is the author of the four fantasy novels constituting The Sundered, as well as the continuing Fantasy series about the Chronicles of Elantra (nine novels and a novella so far), in addition to other assorted essays and short stories. However, her longest-running project is a fantasy series set in a world in which the Empire of Essalieya is the major power. Imo this series has not received the attention that it deserves, and so I am beginning a thread to (I hope) bring it more exposure and explain it's chronology. I am sure that I can't do the story the justice it deserves, but feel that I owe it to the author and to potential readers to at least make the attempt.

    Michelle West began writing in this world in 1995, with the publication of The Sacred Hunt duology, comprised of Hunter's Oath & Hunter's Death. She then began the six novel Sun Sword series (1997-2004), made up of The Broken Crown, The Uncrowned King, The Shining Court, Sea of Sorrows, The Riven Shield and The Sun Sword. All of these books took place in the same chronological and publication order, and there are a couple of past threads (though none recent) which discuss them. During this time, she also wrote six short stories set in this Universe, most dealing with events that occurred earlier than any of the books.

    However, she then made the decision to fill in some of her characters' backstory, with the House War series. Beginning in 2008, she wrote The Hidden City: A Novel of the House War and City of Night: A Novel of the House War, the first of which seem to take place earlier than any of the novels that came before, while the second is primarily earlier, with a bit of overlap with the Hunter's books at the end. Then she finished House Name: A Novel of the House War, which seems to take place concurrently with the original The Sacred Hunt duology.

    In January 2012 Skirmish: A Novel of the House War was published. It jumps ahead in time and occurs after all of the other House War novels, and seems to take place concurrently with the final book of the Sun Sword series, the novel called The Sun Sword. This was to be followed by three more installments in this series. Battle: A Novel of the House War was released December 2012, Oracle: A Novel of the House War will be released mid 2014 and lastly War: A Novel of the House War will be released before the next series, with a working title of The End of Days begins.

    These books are definitely in the Fantasy genre, dealing with an original world with a detailed backstory. There are competing gods, their offspring, demons, magicians, healers, seers, bards, artisans, powerful artifacts, armies, and two major cultures (as well as some smaller ones) that are quite different and defined in depth. The author uses these differences to explore a myriad of themes including the roles of men and women, children, family, rulers, religion, aristocracy and servants, honor, sacrifice and many more. She treats all of these matters with respect and deals with them in an organic way, as they arise from conversations and situations among the many complex and very detailed characters contained within these books.

    In fact, these may well be some of the most fully realized characters that I've yet read in Fantasy and I had no trouble believing the authenticity of their stories. The flip side of such depth is that at times these books are dense and slow-moving. Plot-wise, there is absolutely a lot that happens, but sometimes that progression really can take a backseat to some of the brilliant character moments and the author's allowing her characters to make decisions and progressions in an authentic manner. For those who like fast-moving books where the plot progresses steadily and character conversations and introspections are kept short, then these books may well not appeal. There are a lot of different tastes at a Forum like this, and what constitutes "good" to one person can easily be "bad" for another. That's very much to be expected. But for those who do enjoy this sort of writing, imo there are some similarities to a writer like Robin Hobb (though some differences as well), then this definitely might be a story worth checking out.

    There are free previews of the first Chapters of all of the books available at the author's site, http://michellesagara.com/bibliography/ though all of them contain potential spoilers except for the first Chapter of the first of the House War novels, which is here: http://michellesagara.com/books/the-hidden-city/

    Imo, it is a good starting point and should give any interested readers a solid feel for whether or not this is the sort of story and style that they might find appealing.

    Also spoiler free is the first chapter of the Hunter's duology, here: http://michellesagara.com/books/hunters-oath/, though as the oldest of the author's works in this world it may not be the best representation of her work.

    For those interested in ebooks, both of the Hunter's books have been made available. The six short stories and the four House War novels and The Riven Shield are also available. And the word is that DAW has been working hard on the rest of the main Sun Sword series.
    Last edited by AmethystOrator; August 29th, 2013 at 06:08 PM.

  2. #2
    Thanks for mentioning these. I'm an absolute junky for character, so I'll have to check these out!

  3. #3
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    These are some that I've had cross my radar a few times over the last decade, but I've never known quite enough about them to bump them up onto the "acquire" list. This helps a lot in that regard. I'll probably give book 1 a try at some point.

  4. #4
    Omnibus Prime Moderator PeterWilliam's Avatar
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    I have a fair amount of MSW around here, though I have yet to read a single one. Nearly started the Hunter's duology a couple of times.

  5. #5
    sapper-in-chief Whiskeyjack's Avatar
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    Great recommendations. Her Sundered series is available on the Kindle at $7.16 total for all 4 books... a steal at that price, for what is a decent series. I'm still waiting for the Sun Sword books to come out on the Kindle, then I'm all over them!
    Last edited by Whiskeyjack; October 22nd, 2011 at 04:20 PM.

  6. #6
    boss of several cats... Severn's Avatar
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    I had book one once and for some reason - not sure why now - I traded it in. Argh! I really want to read these. I'm a character junky also.

    Ah well, I'll just get it again.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskeyjack View Post
    Great recommendations. Her Sundered series is available on the Kindle at $7.16 total for all 4 books... a steal at that price, for what is a decent series. I'm still waiting for the Sun Sword books to come out on the Kindle, then I'm all over them!
    Thanks, I just bought the first three for $0.89 + $0.89 + $2.69

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Contrarius View Post
    Thanks for mentioning these. I'm an absolute junky for character, so I'll have to check these out!
    You're welcome. I think that they're well worth sampling for any fan of character. I hope that you enjoy them.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskeyjack View Post
    Great recommendations. Her Sundered series is available on the Kindle at $7.16 total for all 4 books... a steal at that price, for what is a decent series.
    I actually haven't yet read Sundered. Contrasting her latest work to her earliest work that I've read, I can definitely see the improvement and evolution. So I'm a little worried that Sundered may suffer somewhat by the comparison. Still, since I've enjoyed the others so much, I'm picking the physical books up as I see them on sale and plan to get to them sometime next year. And that is a great price, MSRP on those four is over $80 for them in paperback.

    I'm still waiting for the Sun Sword books to come out on the Kindle, then I'm all over them!
    The House Wars are all out on kindle, and again, the first two are chronologically the earliest, with the third tied for third earliest. So personally I'd recommend beginning there even if The Sun Sword was out already:

    http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-City-Ho...=AG56TWVU5XWC2

    http://www.amazon.com/City-Night-Nov...=AG56TWVU5XWC2

    http://www.amazon.com/House-Name-Boo...=AG56TWVU5XWC2

  10. #10
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    I have to agree that Michelle West or Michelle Sagara is well worth reading and she would be one of my top 3 authors.

    She has a style of writing that I really enjoy. It is fair to say that not everybody is a fan of her writing and there are some whom prefer the Sun Sword series over the Elantra series and vice versa as her writing style is different between the two series.

    There is also an active yahoo group that discusses her stories and various thoughts and theories about characters and is located here http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MichelleWest/

  11. #11
    Registered User HeclaBull's Avatar
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    I read West's Sun Sword series years ago and it was really good. I think Malazan fans might enjoy it as it shares some of the traits that I thought made Malazan great. Although smaller in scope than Malazan, it too has a huge cast of characters and very in depth and detailed mythology and world building. More specifically, a large part of the series focuses on a squad of soldiers fighting and surviving through an epic and cataclysmic war much like how tMBotF focuses on the Bridgeburners and Bonehunters.
    Last edited by HeclaBull; February 14th, 2012 at 09:50 PM.

  12. #12
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    Hi Gilliam & HeclaBull, it's always great to see fellow fans.

    I've only read the first book in the Malazan story, but I can definitely see some of the similarities that HeclaBull mentioned. I didn't find the characters in Malazan to be as well fleshed out, though perhaps my opinion might change whenever I get around to reading more books in that series.

  13. #13
    Omnibus Prime Moderator PeterWilliam's Avatar
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    From my "quick take" review:

    I have recently finished both Hunter's Oath and Hunter's Death, by Michelle (Sagara) West. I had been meaning to read them for some time, but had not gotten around to it. I have 200+ books sitting around in various stacks (here in The Omnibus Cave), so when searching for a new read, I wait for one of the many to mystically reach forth and seize my attention.

    It is my understanding that West later continues in this setting with the Sun Sword series (six books) and the House War series (a projected five book series, with four already out). I have seen it mentioned elsewhere that West plans to continue writing in the Essalieyan setting in a new series, sometimes referred to as the Black Gauntlet and sometimes as the End of Days. Outside of the Essalieyan setting, West has written a series called The Sundered (published between '91 and '94) and an episodic series called Chronicles of Elantra ('05 to present).

    The Sacred Hunt is a quick duology that introduces the reader to the Essalieyan setting. Originally released in the mid-90s, Hunter's Oath and Hunter's Death are among the earliest of West's bibliography.

    The Good:
    West handles characterization better than most. West's characters 'come alive' from her story and are easily believable. West also has a setting that holds a great deal of promise. While the Sacred Hunt does no more than to scratch the surface of this, her subsequent series in the same setting surely go more in depth on topics of culture, history, theology, et al.

    The Bad:
    One thing that I have particular difficulty in dealing with are editorial and proofread errors. There are spelling mistakes that can jar the reader's rhythym. There is also some haphazard sentence structure. While neither common, nor rare, there is the occasional sentence that can also break the reader's rhythym, requiring the re-read and re-re-read of the sentence in order to simply figure out precisely what in the hell? the sentence was trying to communicate.

    An element of West's style that began to irritate me a bit was the confusing use of generic pronouns (e.g. he, she). The twist of the tale would change from one POV to another, and yet spend a paragraphy or two, or sometimes a page or two, using the word he, or she. By the time the reader is able to finally deduce which particular POV this is, the reader's perception has to be reset, and then the reader needs to re-read that previous portion in order to fully appreciate the gravity of what has just transpired in its appropriate context. While this may have been intentional, and seem clever on face-value, it becomes a chore.

    Cover art = very bad

    The Remainder:
    Overall, I am not sure whether or not I liked West's writing style. I instinctively want to say I liked it. Under more intense and analytical consideration, West's style may have been the catalyst for some of the elements I listed under "The Bad." It's hard to say either way.

    I would describe West's style as something part way between a stream of consciousness and regular dialogue. As one reads the tale, one gets the sense of eavesdropping on another's own internal, mental dialogue. For the overwhelming majority of the time, I found that it worked rather well.

    The Verdict
    Recommended to Highly Recommended
    Last edited by PeterWilliam; March 10th, 2012 at 02:22 PM.

  14. #14
    Book worm werewolfv2's Avatar
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    Strange, I havent read anything by her since The Sacred Hunt duology which I really liked. Somehow she fell off my radar! It looks like I have some more books to add to my list lol!

    as for kindle.. thanks, but I like to read books not a screen and Im a proud member of TYESI.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeterWilliam View Post
    From my "quick take" review:
    Thanks for posting the review PeterWilliam. It seems fair and I enjoyed reading it.

    I would concur that world-building is among the author's strengths and that at this stage of her career (1995-1996) there is definite room for improvement in terms of her writing style and the editing. I would say that such improvement is seen as the books continue (though not all at once), and at present she has developed what I find to be a rather unique and compelling voice.

    I do think that there are times that her books could be more "polished", especially the earlier ones, but weighed against that is that she seems quite productive as an author (in my relatively limited experience). One of the criticisms that I've sometimes seen leveled against some BFF authors is the length of time that they take between books. Starting with The Sundered, West/Sagara has written 23 books in 22 years, many (though not all) of them quite long, with two more books still due this year.

    Ultimately, I'm glad that you enjoyed these two enough to recommend them, and hope that at some point you'll have the opportunity to continue on with the story.

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