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 (eight 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, at the start of last year, 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 two more installments in this series Battle: A Novel of the House War (out December 2012) and War: A Novel of the House War 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 just recently been made available in 2012. 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.