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REVIEW: House Name by Michelle West

Dear Ms. West,

I fear my epic reading muscles must be atrophied. I realize I’ve been reading many young adult novels and paranormal/urban fantasies in recent months, but I think it’s warped my expectations for how long it should take me to finish a book! I’ve reviewed the Elantra novels you write under the Michelle Sagara name here on Dear Author in the past, but I think this is the first time I’ve reviewed one of your Michelle West epic fantasies.

House Name by Michelle WestFor readers who are only familiar with the Elantra novels, Michelle West also writes interconnected fantasy series for DAW. The best analogy I can come up is something like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar universe. The various novels chronicle the struggles of different characters against the backdrop of the God of Hell returning to the mortal plane, thus promising impending doom and the apocalypse.

House Name is the third book of House War, the third series set in this universe. This series focuses on Jewel Markess ATerafin, a major character of this universe, and her rise to influence in the most powerful noble house of the Essalieyan Empire, House Terafin. House Name picks up after the events of City of Night, in which Jewel’s mentor sends her to his estranged sister, Amarais, the lord of House Terafin.

Coming from one of the poorest districts in the Capital, Jewel is the den leader of a motley gang of street urchins. She is also seerborn which, for obvious reasons, is a very coveted and very rare talent. Because of this, Amarais sees her potential and has given her the opportunity to earn the name of House Terafin. The noble houses of the Empire are unique in fantasylandia in that you aren’t born to the name. You earn it.

What does Jewel have to do to earn the name? Oh, nothing much. She just has to find the entrances to the ruined underground city that exists beneath the Capital. For years, Jewel and her den scavenged the city for valuable items they could pawn. But recently, the ruined city grew unstable. Worse still, something else was in the city, something that led to the disappearance of three of her den and the death of her right hand.

You see, once upon a time, that fallen city was home to the Lord of Hell and his followers when gods still walked the earth. The problem? The entrances are disappearing. This is obviously a problem when demons have returned to the mortal plane and are trying to resurrect their god. Even more, it makes Jewel look like a liar. The only reason she’s believed is because Amarais and the powerful mage, Meralonne, saw the existence of demons with their very own eyes.

If this plot sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It’s the events of Hunter’s Death, a previous Michelle West novel, told from the den’s perspective. As a longtime Michelle West fan who’s read every book, I must admit that what should have been the high points of the plot ended up not being the case at all. I knew what was going to happen, and that negated the suspense.

I can’t say this was a surprise. After all, the last third or so of the previous novel, City of Night also repeated some of the events portrayed in Hunter’s Death. But it didn’t bother me quite as much there because we had the first two-thirds and Rath’s and Duster’s respective storylines. House Name, however, expands the remaining events involving the den from Hunter’s Death. A lot. To the point that I question if this book was even necessary to advance or just pretty filler.

Don’t get me wrong. I did like some of the expansion. I enjoyed Finch’s and Teller’s storylines a great deal. I also liked seeing the conclusion of Angel’s plot thread that began in City of Night, even though I felt that it lacked a certain impact. There were also some background details offered up that I think longtime readers will appreciate.

That said, I know this story already. I know how it ended. This isn’t a matter of knowing genre conventions — like the lost heir returning to claim the throne or the evil king being overthrown. Readers know those by heart. Like many readers, I read for the journey. But I’ve already been on this journey. I know the setbacks, the advances, the success, the failures. I know them already. A few minor subplots and expanded scenes aren’t going to change that fact.

I guess what it comes down to is why readers read a book, and why epic fantasy readers read epic fantasy series. Speaking for myself, I look for new adventures, new struggles, new conflicts, new mysteries, forward movement along a character arc, and maybe new characters. Maybe not at all once but certainly some of them. And to be blunt, I don’t think House Name actually gave me any of those things.

This is a tough grade to assign. It’s a well-written book and I think someone who hasn’t read the Sacred Hunt duology (of which Hunter’s Death is the second book) might not view it as much of a retread as I did. On the other hand, because it portrays the events of that book from the den’s perspective, unfamiliar readers might also feel like half the story is missing. I do think this is a book diehard fans of the series will want to read but readers who are lukewarm towards Jewel and her story arc can probably skip it. At any rate, this novel is anything but a good entry point into this universe, although that is a problem plaguing many an epic fantasy series and certainly is not unique to this one. C

My regards,
Jia

Book Link | Amazon | nook | BN |

There appears to be no ebook format for this book. I know. WTF?

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

13 Comments

  1. Estara
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 15:59:38

    From what I remember on her LJ, she said that she had wanted to write in the Sun Sword universe again, but found herself unable to pick up new threads before she had put Jewel’s journey into more of a perspective (the Sacred Hunt books where her first for DAW and I have the feeling they didn’t allow her to write them as long as she needed them).

    On her author site she recommends starting the whole series with the House War books to date – and I think if we both hadn’t read the Sacred Hunt books before the impact of the action parts would have been just fine (I mean she never went back to the Breodani, so for some reason this part of that universe isn’t really as important).

    I do look forward to the actual start of the House War in skirmish – which should cross over with the last part of the Sun Sword series, from what I gather – the Terafin characters that didn’t go with Jewel.

    I gave it four stars ^^ – I liked this one better than the middle book.

  2. orannia
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 17:11:06

    Thank you Jia! I’m behind with this series – I still haven’t read City of Night as I’m currently re-reading Janny Wurts’ War of Light and Shadow series (I’m up to the fifth book :)

    I did read Hunter’s Death, but it was so long ago that hopefully the plot points have long fallen out of the sieve that is my brain :) And while I am interested in knowing more about the den as a whole, I really want to pick up the story where we left it at the end of the Sun Sword series!

  3. Jia
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 18:06:52

    For an answer to the surprising lack of ebook format, here’s an explanation.

    http://msagarawest.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/house-name-is-in-the-house-and-an-answer-to-the-kindle-question/

  4. Linda
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 22:29:56

    Good one Jia.. Thanks! I got good book recommendations from myBantu.com. Take a look..

  5. Marumae
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 17:30:02

    This…actually sounds really cool (the plot itself), even though it’s a rehash of another novel. Michelle West’s books always sound awesome but I have yet to meet someone whose read them personally, and I’m at the point now in after reading fantasy for so long and being burned out on so many epic fantasy series I’m hesitant to pick one up (epic fantasy that is) unless someone gives me a personal recc or says it’s worth doing so. Would you say her books or this series itself is worth picking up?

  6. Jia
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 18:31:02

    I definitely think her books are worth picking up. The books she writes under the Michelle Sagara name are basically urban fantasy procedurals in a traditional fantasy setting while the Michelle West novels are full-blown epic fantasy.

    I know West has stated that she prefers readers delve into her series via House War (of which House Name is the third installment) but I actually think The Sun Sword series (6 books total) is a better introduction to her work and this world. It shows both the strengths and quirks of her writing so it’ll give you a good idea whether or not you want to continue. Also, there’s a variety of well-rounded female characters so it’s not just all Jewel all the time.

    In addition, it is complete and in a time where so many epic fantasy series are unfinished, I personally think that’s a plus.

  7. Estara
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 13:16:36

    @Jia: I second this opinion (especially as I’m rereading the Sun Sword after 15 years, I’d say, and I’m really enjoying myself ^^).

    It’s not perfect – the Indian/Arabic equivalent of the Renaissance European-equivalent Empire is stereotypically harsh on its women, owns slaves and also the ones who invite the evil into the world this time – but there are oodles of strong women stepping out of the stereotypical place on both sides of the confrontation.

  8. Jia
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 13:34:43

    @Estara: The Dominion is actually my favorite aspect of this universe. (I… actually find the Empire boring.) It’s that rare example where there is an extremely patriarchal society but the women who belong to it are still depicted as being strong while remaining true to that society (Diora, Teresa). There’s none of the “They need to be more like the Empire!” nonsense that plagues other books. (Am I still annoyed about Nightshade? Apparently!)

  9. Estara
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 14:51:26

    Heh, you don’t like Nightshade either? Yay!

  10. Jia
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 15:01:29

    @Estara: Well, I was talking about the book, Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer. But I don’t like the Nightshade of the Elantra books either!

  11. An
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 16:29:05

    Wait, number three is out? Argh! I’m still reading number two.

    I like this story, and I’m just in the middle of digging out the older series from the second-hand bookstores in town.

    *sticks fingers in my ears to prevent spoilers*

    Thanks for the info, I’m not normally so behind on release dates.

    :-)

  12. REVIEW: Skirmish by Michelle West | Dear Author
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:37:48

    [...] books in this series: The Hidden City, City of Night, House Name (review) Tagged with: DAW Books • demons • epic fantasy • gods • Michelle Sagara • [...]

  13. REVIEW: Battle by Michelle West
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 08:02:06

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

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