The Shining Court

Oh my God, this one was a doozy! If she keeps at it--and three books in it doesn't look as though she's planning to stop--I have a feeling that Michelle West's The Sun Sword will end up as one of my favorite fantasy series of all time!

As mentioned in my last review, The Broken Crown mostly worked as a vast introduction to a decidedly multilayered tale, while The Uncrowned King turned out to be a more self-contained novel. The second installment was not as sprawling as its predecessor, which by necessity needed to lay the groundwork for the rest of the series, for it focused on the King's Challenge and its far-reaching repercussions. This tighter focus made for an easier and more streamlined reading experience, but I did miss the Dominion plotlines of the first volume.

In The Shining Court, West elevates her game and starts to bring existing threads together. Even better, she introduces new storylines that add yet new layers to an already convoluted plot and further flesh out characters and their back stories. In the same way Steven Erikson's Memories of Ice and George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords marked pivotal turning points in their respective fantasy sagas, with The Shining Court Michelle West ups the ante and shows that she can swing with the best of them.

Here's the blurb:


those allied with the demons of the Shining Court feared the bargain they'd made. For to the kialli betrayal was a way of life, and every action was a means to gain greater power. And as the Festival of the Moon approached, the demon kin began to prey upon those in the Tor Leonne. But more frightening than their presence was their "gift" for the Festival, masks created not by human craftsmen but by the kialli. Even the magic and knowledge of the greatest of the Dominion's Widan had been unable to discern what trap the masks contained--and time to discover and avert this menace was running out....


the armies were mobilizing for war. But before they carried the battle to the Dominion, Seer Jewel ATerafin would be forced to follow her own destiny. For what she'd seen in vision she could not deny. And so Jewel, with only Avander to guard her back, would abandon House Terafin on the eve of its greatest peril and journey into the darkness which was fast overshadowing the mortal lands....


the moment had come to make their final stand against Allasakar, Lord of the Hells, for they alone had kept to the old ways, guarding the ancient knowledge. But hounded by their enemies, and with one of their greatest treasures hidden in the Tor Leonne, could they withstand the power of the Shining Court?

As was the case in the first two volumes, the worldbuilding continues to be exceptional. In my previous reviews, I mentioned that West had an eye for detail and that the imagery she creates leaps off the page at every turn. The same can be said of The Shining Court and then some. With yet more layers added with each new revelations, there is a depth to her universe that is akin to that of Tolkien, Erikson, and Bakker. That's really saying something! Bringing together plotlines from its predecessors, this third installment alternates between the Dominion and the Essalieyan Empire. Jewel's storyline takes us down an unexpected road that changes the game for that protagonist and likely sets the stage for the House War series. I loved the new dimension that adding the gipsy-like Voyani provided to the overall story arc. Forget about Robert Jordan's Tuatha'an. West's traveling people are badass men and women. Especially the Matriarchs, wise women bearing ancient secrets that may change the course of the coming war against the Lord of Night. In addition, we also get to see more of how the Shining Court operates and who the major players are. Michelle West has created a world that lives and breathes and I can't wait to discover what happens next. 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.

Structurally, as it alternates between the Essalieyan Empire and the Dominion to begin with, but with the bulk of the rest of the tale occurring in the South, The Shining Court is more akin to The Broken Crown than the second volume. Add to that Jewel's visit to Evereve and its aftermath, as well as the sequences taking place in the Northern Wastes, and one could say that the story is all over the place. It is, no doubt about it. But other than the Evereve portions, which dragged for some reason, there was no such meanderings regarding the rest of the plotlines. If anything, though it is another sprawling book that covers a lot of plot threads and locales, it felt as though it was as tightly written as The Uncrowned King. It remains to be seen, but I have a feeling that The Shining Court will act as a transition novel bridging the events of the first two volumes and tying them together in a manner that will allow West to move the plot forward in a more streamlined fashion.

Once more, the characterization is amazing. À la Robin Hobb and Jacqueline Carey, somehow Michelle West comes up with yet more endearing and fascinating three-dimensional protagonists. It was a delight to be reacquainted with Serra Teresa and Serra Diora in the Dominion. They have made such an impression in The Broken Crown and I was curious to see what the fallout of those events would be. And yet, as important as these two women are and will continue to be, they were upstaged by the Voyani in this book. The Arkosa clan play an important role in The Shining Court, but I particularly enjoyed every scene featuring the four Matriarchs. I was impressed by how Michelle West fleshed them out and I'm looking forward to see how the Voyani storyline will play out. Of all the protagonists, it is doubtless Jewel that goes through the most character growth in this third volume. I liked how her relationship with Avandar evolved, even if it added a slew of mystical beings and supernatural creatures to the already Malazan-length Dramatis Personae of the Sun Sword series. Add to that new revelations about Kallandras, Avandar, Kiriel, the Shining Court, and the Voyani which offer more tantalizing hints of buried pasts and powers. Speaking of the Shining Court, I would have liked to see more of Anya, a deranged young woman who's also the most powerful mage seen in millennia. There is a childish aspect to her character that makes you feel for the poor girl.

It's no secret that Michelle West's beautiful prose has made quite an impression on me and The Shining Court is no different. It continues to be reminiscent of that of Guy Gavriel Kay and Jacqueline Carey. Having said that, the author remains quite verbose and repetitive, and hence many portions are overwritten. But with a story this good, I guess I got used to this quirk of hers and it doesn't really bother me anymore. As was the case with the first volume, there are some pacing issues. Especially with the Evereve sequence, which was much longer than it needed to be. Other than that, even though a few scenes can slow the overall rhythm of the novel, for the most part the tale that is The Shining Court moves at a good clip. Mind you, it's not a fast-paced work by any stretch of the imagination, but it makes for another compulsive reading experience.

Once again, Michelle West weaves the various threads of her story together and make them come together to form an exciting endgame. For the third time in a row, she caps it all off with the sort of panache that makes you beg for more. And as good as the previous finales turned out to be, the one with which West brings The Shining Court to a close is the best one yet!

Three books in, for my money Michelle West's The Sun Sword is the best speculative fiction work ever published by Daw Books. Yes, better than anything written by Tad Williams, C. S. Friedman, Patrick Rothfuss, and the rest! So get your hands on these books!

The final verdict: 9.5/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

5 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

I see that the author has a few series - is the Sun Sword series the best starting point?

Patrick said...

Some people suggest starting with THE HIDDEN CITY, first volume in West's House War series. Though it was published after the Sun Sword series, it comes first in chronological order and is the origin story of one of the main characters.

Personally, I started with THE BROKEN CROWN and I have no regrets! =)

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Terry A. said...

Thanks for turning me on to this series.
Without your recommendation, I wouldn't have known about it let alone read it. I'm reading The Shining Court right now.

Patrick said...

THE SHINNING COURT is great! I'm almost done with SEA OF SORROWS and it just might be even better! =)