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.
In 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
Previous books in this series: The Hidden City, City of Night, House Name (review), Skirmish (review)
I haven’t read any of West’s House War books, because I have found myself sort of irritated by how little character development has occurred over the course of the five (six?) Chronicles of Elantra novels. I’m willing to sign on for a long series if I feel that the story arc justifies it (like in Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books), but I’m getting tired of how slowly the Elantra series is moving, and I can’t really tell what it’s building towards (or how soon). There’s limited payoff in each book at this point with regard to character development or overall plot.
Is it known, at this point, how much longer the House War series will continue, or is it (like the Elantra books) of a sort of indefinite nature?
My impression with the way really old (Sun Sword series) developments were finally fulfilled in this book, was that readers of the first series really get a bonus enjoyment out of this book.
I doubt she’ll finish the current arc of the plot (Jewel) in one book, I think she may need two more.
And then we have at least six more important strands to address until the fight with Allasakar can be over. I SO HOPE that the series sells well enough that DAW can continue giving her contracts for that.
For my money, West is the best epic fantasy author currently writing and ought to definitely be as widely known as Jordan, Martin et al.
@cbackson: There’s a definite end of House War. Whether it’ll take 1 or 2 books to get there is the question. The caveat of this series is that it’s part of a bigger world that consists of multiple series that interlock. But to answer your question: there’s a definite goal and final confrontation, and all of the books have been building towards it. This isn’t like Elantra where it’s not entirely clear what the series is building towards.
@Estara: I can’t see how she’d be able to wrap up everything in one more book. It’d be nice if she could — that way it could end nicely with War after Battle in terms of sequencing but it might end up a case of a split book like what happened with The Riven Shield and The Sun Sword in the previous series.
Just finished Battle last night and passed it on to a girlfriend who, like me, has devoured the (multiple) series. We just spent thirty minutes on the phone in a conversation that would have been embarrassing if heard by others but the question she asked was “In this book, does Jewel or really any character engage in a romantic or sexual relationship (YET)?”
Because with all the detail, all the multiple levels of thought and characters and how dynamic I think the stories are, that is an area of human life mostly uninhabited by Jewel, her den, or most of the characters in West’s novels. [The exception being Carver and Merry, which is pretty peripheral, and there was a hint, a bare hint, of sensuality with Avandar in the last book.]
There was the implication she was raped in Hidden City, but since then neither Jewel–nor her den nor any other main characters– have or show romantic or sexual leanings. There is no romantic love. No lust. FOR OR BY them. They covet no one and no one covets them.
For all that these are coming of age (Hidden City) or adult development or power play and intrigue amongst court members, this is starting to stand out in our eyes for it’s strange absence. Traumatic background or not, love and romance and sex are part of growing up. And part of power plays. And part of being an adult person. The having it and not having it. And not just in romance novels. It needn’t be “happily ever after.”
[Edited to add: In fact, the way I found this review was googling Michelle West and romance to see if she’d ever spoken to this issue–about WHY this area of life is invisible in her novel]
STILL, can’t wait for the next one. I could read entire novels about many of these characters.
Honestly, I loved the book on one level and was annoyed on another. I am glad that my suspicions held for the last 10+ years were verified and supported. On another level, I am like seriously Jewel, you are in your 30s, own this! I did really enjoy seeing the maturity and development of the members of the Den, especially Finch and Teller. I loved that the one under-used and noted member of the Den might have more play in the next book.
I actually have questions about the Jewel as chosen one idea. I kind of feel like the chosen one is this person who is supposed to kill Allasakar, but on some level there are a whole lots of critical people for different steps along the way until we get to the End of Days. But I also feel like we are going to get an announcement later this year that in fact there is one more book after War because there were a lot of plot and character threads that got dropped.
– I think the question about relationships has been discussed on the yahoo groups list, but it might not be a bad idea to post it on her spoiler thread discussion list. I think the only person they have talked about is really Carver in terms of Merry. But I also wonder, if for the others they are also thinking about how they could develop vulnerabilities for Jewel n the house. We clearly know that Rymark is not at all kind to females, especially those he perceives as less in power, so I could see that kind of disadvantage extend out in terms of creating blows to the reputation for Jewel.
I think the thing that I have to keep reminding myself about the Elantra books is that we have only passed a few months. While it is years for the rest of us, its only months to weeks depending on which book.
i second your view on her as one of the best epic fantasy authors, sadly underrated. Perhaps better than some others because I think she has more nuanced characters and developments than others.
I’m sorry I am not familiar with either the spoiler threads or her yahoo threads…could you provide a link? This is the first time I have posted on one of these. (Smile )
And OF COURSE love and lust and crushes provide vulnerabilities….but that doesn’t keep them from happening AND it doesn’t keep people from having them ON YOU. No one in the den has had a crush or tumble with each other—living in close quarters as teens? During high adrenaline or scary need of comfort moments? Then had to deal with the consequences? It been all platonic/brotherly love?
No one except Carver has gone outside the den? No one has had a bumbling look up to her type crush on Jewel? Or no mentor has had that type of crush on her? It would just add to the complexities! In a good way (for the reader)!!
Oh, the spoiler thread is at her website. http://michellesagara.com/blog/
Honestly, these questions have run through my mind in the past. But I think at this point, after having read her for the better part of 2 decades I don’t even expect the same romantic entanglements. There are superficial discussions and speculation,but she does not write about it. Sadly, in my experience the closest she came to open discussion was during her first series back in the early 1990s.