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The Sun Sword series, books 1-4 of ? by Michelle West

Review by julival

The first four book are all that are currently published - The Broken Crown, The Uncrowned King, The Shining Court, and The Sea of Sorrows . This series is a companion series to an earlier duology which consists of Hunter’s Oath and Hunter’s Death. It is not absolutely necessary to read the Hunter stories in order to appreciate the Sun Sword, but it adds depth of history to the settings, the plots, and several of the major characters in Sun Sword. West makes frequent use of the ‘in the story synopsis’ (i.e. characters remembrances) to keep one up to date and fill in any gaps, but many of her references to the earlier books are obscure in order to prevent spoilers for those who have not read the Hunter books.

The setting of the series encompasses two major kingdoms – The Dominion of Annagar and the Essalieyan Empire. These opposing states have warred in the past and may war again. One of the most interesting aspects of the books is the vast difference in the cultures of the Dominion and the Empire. The Dominion (the southern, mostly desert kingdom) is in many ways similar to our Eastern cultures and the Empire (the northern, more fertile and with a seaside capital) is far more Western.

Admittedly, this series gets off to a slow start if one is a lover of action in fantasy. The first book takes place almost entirely in the Dominion of Annagar, where emotions are highly controlled, grace and refinement are paramount, and men dominate with open displays of power, while women are kept as either outright or virtual slaves. The main character of this book is the exquisitely beautiful Diora di Marano. As all other women of any ‘power’ in her culture, she must use quiet manipulation and intelligence to control her fate in any of the few ways available to her. Because of the sedate, controlled culture, and the importance of beauty in the Dominion, this book moves at the slowest pace of any of the four. It builds the basis of a magnificent and intricate plot, however.

The second book concentrates more on the northern Empire. It includes more intrigue, fast and furious combat scenes, and the introduction of some wonderful new characters, as well as the deepening of many existing characters (including one of my all time favorite fantasy characters – Jewel Markess).

Books three and four have settings in both kingdoms as the characters from each work together more and more to fight a common enemy. The pace is more varied in these two and the characters and plot gain in complexity and depth with each book.

The writing is solid, the characters very well drawn as the story progresses, and the plot ever more involved. Book four has been the most satisfying for me in that it is very similar to the fourth book of The Wheel of Time , with issues of historical importance coming clear and aiding one in envisioning some outcomes. Some plots are resolved in each volume, but the long-term plot continues to evolve.

What really stands out for me in these books are the strong female characters. They have a variety of personalities and strengths and weaknesses, yet women of both cultures are heroic, intelligent, cunning, nurturing, and powerful in their own ways. West is able to write incredibly touching emotional scenes for both her male and female characters in counterpoint to stunning action scenes.

I would give this series 4 out of 5 amulets, thus far.

Julie



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