Sea of Sorrows

Just when I thought that this series couldn't really get any better, Michelle West somehow found a way to elevate her game to another level, making Sea of Sorrows the best installment thus far!

While The Broken Crown proved to be a vast introduction to a convoluted tale, its immediate sequel The Uncrowned King turned out to be a more self-contained novel that focused on the Northern storylines. In The Shining Court, West started to up the ante and brought existing threads together, introducing new plotlines which added yet new layers to an already complex story arc and further fleshing out characters and their back stories in the process. And like its predecessor, Sea of Sorrows pushes the envelope even further and makes the Sun Sword one of the best speculative fiction series I have ever read.

Yes, it's that damn good!

Here's the blurb:

The fourth novel of the acclaimed Sun Sword series returns to a war-torn world of noble houses divided and demon lords unleashed...

In the Essalieyan Empire, the armies are gathering, ready to champion the cause of Valedan kai di’Leonne, last survivor of the ruling clan of the Dominion. But Valedan himself must take a different road to war, sealing what Dominion alliances he can claim without the Empire’s backing.

Yet even before Valedan sets forth, Jewel of House Terafin has already journeyed beyond mortal realms with only her domicis Avandar to guard her back, walking through flame to join the Voyani on a trek they’ve been destined to make for centuries. Behind her she has left a House on the brink of bloody dynastic war—and her den caught in the deadly political infighting.

Kiriel, too, must face the greatest challenge of her life, torn between the conflicting demands of her father’s and her mortal heritage.

And as the Voyani—with Jewel, Avandar, Kallandras, Diora, Teresa, and Lord Celleriant of the Winter Queen’s court—embark upon the Sea of Sorrows in a desperate attempt to reach the lost Cities of Man, a spell gone awry insures that all their enemies—whether of mortal or demonkind—can trace the path they are following and strike out at them at any moment…

Structurally, it often feels as though six volumes were not enough to recount the full tale Michelle West wanted to tell. The good thing about such limitation is that her editor forced West to keep a lid of things, thus preventing her from getting lost in the mire of extraneous plot threads that plagued portions of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive. The bad thing is that it forces the author to juggle with several storylines, all of them important in the greater scheme of things, and somehow write them in a way that creates an interesting and cohesive whole. That is easier said than done, it goes without saying. The exciting endgame and the great finale of The Shining Court set the stage for an amazing fourth volume. Unfortunately, since the bulk of the novel took place in the Dominion, West has no choice but to backtrack and elaborate on the events that took place in the Essalieyan Empire while the proverbial shit was hitting in the fan in the South. Because as important as the Dominion plotlines were, what occurred in the North will also have far-reaching consequences in both the Sun Sword and the House War series. Ideally, the author could have written two separate books; one focusing on the North and the other on the South. In the end, she couldn't, which is why the reader is forced to go through these jarring shifts in three of the four installments so far. Imagine if, instead of writing three different books, each focusing on certain plotlines, the events of Steven Erikson's Memories of Ice, House of Chains, and Midnight Tides had been crammed together in three novels that, while being all over the place, attempted to maintain an overall story arc that was coherent with no continuity issues. That would have been quite a feat, right? And yet, though those shifts are incongruous, given that West's universe resounds with as much depth as Erikson's Malazan world it is somewhat of a wonder that she has managed to write such a compelling tale while dealing with such constraints.

Once again, the worldbuilding continues to be astonishing. I know I'm repeating myself, but in my previous reviews I mentioned that West has an eye for detail and that the imagery she creates leaps off the page at every turn. And yes, the same can be said of Sea of Sorrows. With yet more layers added with each new chapter, there is a depth to Michelle West's universe that rivals that of Tolkien, Erikson, and Bakker. How the Sun Sword somehow managed to remain the genre's best-kept secret for nearly three decades, I'll never know. If she sticks the landing, and to all ends and purposes it looks as though she does, the Sun Sword should be one of the most celebrated fantasy series out there. Here's to hoping that my reviews will entice enough readers to give these books a shot and help raise awareness in a series that should be held in high esteem by legions of SFF fans around the world. As mentioned before, with each new page, each new chapter, each new book, the author weaves a tapestry that is as complex as it is captivating.

Weighing in at 830 pages, Sea of Sorrows is no slim volume. Like The Shining Court, it is another sprawling book that covers a lot of plot threads and locales. And like its predecessor, it is as tightly written as The Uncrowned King. Though we must go through 200+ pages to find out what happened in the North since Jewel disappeared with Avandar, unlike the Evereve scenes that dragged for a while in the previous volume, the bulk of this novel made for compulsive reading. The Voyani storyline, which I found so intriguing in the third installment, takes center stage in this one and it's extraordinary. The flashback sequence that reveals the secrets of the Arkosa Voyani was the best I've read since Jordan sent Rand al'Thor into the heart of Rhuidean.

Once more, the characterization is top notch. À la Robin Hobb and Jacqueline Carey, Michelle West continues to flesh out a cast of endearing and fascinating three-dimensional characters. Even if the abrupt shift that brought us back to the imperial capital of Averalaan was a bit discordant, it was nice to get reacquainted with Kiriel and the Ospreys, Valedan, Princess Mirialyn, Ramiro kai di'Callesta, Meralonne APhaniel, Sigurne Mellifas, and Ser Anton di'Guivera. War with the Dominion is coming and it was interesting to see the first step taken in that regard. But given how The Shining Court ended, I couldn't wait to discover what the author had in store for Teresea, Diora, Jewel, and Kallandras. The Arkosan clan plays an important role in Sea of Sorrows. To a certain extent, one could say that it is their book, for so many threads have to do with them. In my last review, I said I was looking forward to see how the Voyani storyline would play out and I wasn't disappointed. Of all the protagonists, it is Margret that goes through the most character growth in this fourth volume. With a deft human touch, though she is infuriating, West really makes you feel for her. Add to that her relationships with her brother Adam, and her cousins Elena and Nicu, and there's a lot of emotional baggage to deal with. That and Margret's feelings of inadequacy when dealing with Yollana, the old Matriarch of the Havalla Voyani clan. The strained and unexpected relationship she forms with Diora, bearer of the Heart of Arkosa, truly made the book for me. Add to that new revelations about Jewel, Kallandras, Avandar, Kiriel, Celleriant, and more, and you have a novel that's impossible to put down.

Given the number of quotes I posted on Hotlist, it should come as no surprise that Michelle West's beautiful prose continues to make quite an impression on me. Problem is, in the previous volumes the author had a tendency to be quite verbose and repetitive. Which resulted in many a scene being overwritten. Not so with Sea of Sorrows. With so much to cram into a single novel, I guess that everything that wasn't important was cut from the narrative. Hence, I'm pleased to report that there are no pacing issues slowing down the rhythm of this one. Like The Shining Court, it's not a fast-paced work by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, by the time they approach the hidden remains of Arkosa, this book becomes a true page-turner!

True to form, Michelle West weaves the various threads of her story together and make them come together in another exciting endgame. For the fourth time in a row, she caps it all off with the sort of panache that makes you beg for more. I know I've been saying this in every review so far, but as good as the previous finales turned out to be, the one with which West brings Sea of Sorrows to a close is the best one yet! Four books in, it's now evident that West can swing with the best of them.

The Sun Sword deserves the highest possible recommendation. Sea of Sorrows is one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read!

The final verdict: 10/10

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8 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Pat, I am reading the first book in the series now and find it really slow going. I'm about a third of the way thru. Is it going to pick up as far as pace and action or is this just what the series is?

Patrick said...

The first half or so is really slow-going. But stick with it, as it gets much better toward the end.

Like Erikson's GARDENS OF THE MOON, West's THE BROKEN CROWN is a tough first volume that you must get through to get to the awesomeness of what comes next. =)

David Hernandez said...

Many years ago, because of your reviews I discovered and read the best series I have read, Malazan.

Because of your reviews I checked out from the library Hunter’s Oath and I am an hour away from finishing it…. I freaking love it!!! Can’t wait to get to the main instalments!!! Will buy them all!!!!!

Patrick said...


Glad you're enjoying it. Haven't read it yet, but as you can see I find the Sun Sword enthralling!

Here's to hoping that more and more people will give Michelle West a shot! =)

Unknown said...

Hey, Pat Anon from above here. You were right. Much better in 2nd half and have I have now moved on to book 2. Thanks for the rec!!

Patrick said...

Believe me: The best is yet to come! =)

Terry A. said...

Thanks for your recommendation. I completed all six booksin The Sun Sword series. Now, I need to decide if i'm going to read the House War series.

Patrick said...

@Terry A:

That's great! I'm reading the final volume as we speak! =)