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Michelle Sagara

REVIEW:  Cast in Sorrow by Michelle Sagara

REVIEW: Cast in Sorrow by Michelle Sagara

Dear Ms. Sagara,

Long-running series are tough. How do you keep each book fresh and interesting? Reader fatigue is a serious risk when there’s no promise of an end anywhere in sight. I’m a big fan of your novels, especially those written under the Michelle West name, so I’ve held fast to the belief that my loyalty will be rewarded. Unfortunately, I’ve reached the point with the Elantra novels where my patience has come to an end.

cast-in-sorrow-sagaraCast in Sorrow picks up immediately after the end of Cast in Peril. This should be no surprise because this story was originally one novel split into two. But because of that, this is absolutely not the place for a new reader to come into the series. To be honest, I can’t think of the last novel in this series where I found that such a thing would be possible. I suspect it was many books back.

To recap, Kaylin Neya has traveled to West March with the Barrani, who are Elantra’s equivalent of the Fae — beautiful, powerful, and extremely long-lived. In a surprising turn of events — unless you’re a reader and know the story of the Precious Chosen One — she has been chosen as a harmoniste. Meanwhile Lord Nightshade, an outcaste Barrani lord who has been a persistent presence in her life, has been chosen as the teller.

The harmoniste and the teller are important roles in a traditional Barrani ritual that will require them to spin a story. But as the mysterious markings that cover Kaylin’s body have shown, words have true, magical power. Whatever story she chooses to form from the words Nightshade tells will have longlasting effects upon the Barrani as a race.

Your storytelling style has always been measured and carefully paced. It’s not for everyone. I realize that. But in recent years, I’ve discovered that while this style works well for me in the Michelle West novels, it’s increasingly irritating me in the Elantra novels. This is the first time that I’ve finished a novel of yours that felt bloated and excessively drawn out.

I realize this is compounded by the decompressed timeline of the books. It’s been nine years of my life while it’s been only a year or so in Kaylin’s. The impression of her stunted character growth is partially artificial. From an in-world context, it’s believable. That said, as a reader, I need a bone to show me that my invested time is time well spent. And with Cast in Sorrow, I read almost 500 pages of a story that could have been told in 300. The plodding pace frustrated me.

The worldbuilding remains the strongest aspect of the Elantra series and fans of that won’t be disappointed. We learn a great deal about the Barrani, as well as a tragic secret from their long history. I just wasn’t able to appreciate it fully because of how the story dragged. Of course, I also freely admit the Barrani aren’t my favorite of the Elantran races. (Where is the Aerian book?)

We also delve into the relationship between Kaylin and Teela. I should have loved this because we all know how I feel about female friendships in fantasy. More of it, please. But rather than being fascinated by the idea that Kaylin viewed Teela as being “safe” — as a Barrani, Teela wasn’t fragile like a human and therefore not as likely to die — I found myself growing further disenchanted. Their relationship only seemed to reinforce the idea that Kaylin was the Special Chosen One, and that is my least favorite part about Kaylin’s story.

While I’ve stuck with the Elantra series for 9 books, I think it’s time for me to step off the bus. I’ve hit the point in the books where I don’t see an end in sight and there’s no payoff for the time I’m investing. Maybe I’ll come back to it some day, but for now I think this is where Elantra and I part ways. C-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Battle by Michelle West

REVIEW: Battle by Michelle West

Dear Michelle West:

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have mixed feelings about the first three books of your House War series. I loved the fact they expanded on the pasts of Jewel and her den, but I also disliked that we retread familiar scenes from other books set in this universe. After the Sun Sword series, it seemed like we’d hit a roadbump. Those misgivings were assuaged with the previous novel, Skirmish, and in Battle, my doubts are gone. This is the reason I fell in love with the books set in the Essalieyan universe.

battle-michelle-westIn Battle, Jewel has finally assumed the title of the Terafin. It’s been a long time coming. This has been her aim ever since her debut in the Hunter duology and it’s satisfying to see her accomplish her goal. But nothing runs smoothly in Jewel’s life, however.

Ever since Jewel’s first appearance in the books, she’s had one singular and rare gift. She is a seer. It’s the trait that earned her a place in House Terafin. The value of the gift was worth so much that when she insisted her den be accepted into the house as well, her request was granted.

Hints dropped in previous novels bear fruit in this one. We learn the seer gift is linked to more powerful, and devastating, abilities and in the far past, these abilities gave rise to great cities. In the present time, however, these abilities may be the only thing that stands between the Empire and the Lord of Hell.

This is a big book and a lot happens in it. I won’t lie. These books are epic in scope and they are so interconnected that it is a definite investment of reading time. But I think they’re worth it. The inevitable confrontation between mortals and the Lord of Hells looms closer, and I can practically see the apocalypse coming on the horizon.

Jewel has always been the Chosen One. That’s her archetype and while that’s never been one of my favorite character types, the one thing I like about her is that her Special status comes with a price. Not everyone loves her. In fact, I’d say more people dislike her at this point. In the past she’s been the target of assassination attempts from humans and demons alike. The fight for the title of Terafin was not bloodless, and there were rivals for the head seat. Likewise, demons recognized the threat she posed and sought to get rid of her before she came fully into her power. Now that her abilities have awakened the land of the capital itself, the Emperors and high priests have turned their eyes towards her.

Themes of power — how it affects people and what people do with it — have always run through your novels. It’s one of the more interesting aspects for me. And I liked that Battle acknowledges a simple fact: intentions do not matter. No one denies that Jewel means well. No one denies that she is on the side of good. She was instrumental is averting a demon invasion as a teenager, and people remember that.

This doesn’t mean she can be trusted. Having good intentions is not enough when you can alter the structures of ancient buildings, make magical trees grow where they shouldn’t, and access hidden pathways that should be forbidden to mortals. She can even walk through dreamscapes. But she does not understand how her abilities work. She cannot control them. This makes her dangerous to those who would call her ally, which raises the question of whether letting her live is worth the risk.

Battle also tackles Jewel’s one great fatal flaw. She wants to protect the ones she loves. An admirable trait but not pragmatic for the head of the most powerful House and definitely not feasible when you’re trying to stop the end of the world. People die. They die everyday. It’s just a question of when. Jewel does not fear using the near-immortals and supernatural creatures that serve her, but it’s the humans — her den — that are her weakness. And it’s becoming increasingly apparent that’s a hurdle she’ll have to overcome if she’s to succeed at what she has to do.

While Jewel is certainly the focal point of this novel, there are other fascinating revelations. We learn about the world of dreams and the cause behind the mysterious sleeping sickness introduced earlier in the series. We find out more about the Sleepers and discover (finally) Meralonne’s true identity. I will certainly say that revelation alone was huge. I’m still reeling from it, honestly.

As I’ve said, Jewel is not my favorite characters from these books but Battle did something I never expected. It made me genuinely like her. I’m now anxious for the next installment and beyond that, the coming conflict with the Lord of Hells and the end of the world. B

My regards,
Jia

Previous books in this series: The Hidden City, City of Night, House Name (review), Skirmish (review)

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