Oh boy, where do I begin?

I was concerned about how well Firstborn would stand on its own, given that it was essentially the first half of War, which grew too big to be published as a single book. Hence, I was hoping that Firstborn would be akin to The Riven Shield and thus a worthy addition to the series. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. Although the seventh installment featured some of the best stuff in the House War sequence, it was also plagued by some of the worse cases of West totally losing herself into pointless extraneous plotlines. Considering how bad Michelle West has been in that regard in her previous works, that was really saying something.

Still, given how she knocked it out of the park with The Sun Sword, I had hopes that she could do it again with War. With all the storylines that have been building up over the course of both The Sun Sword and The House War series, all the ingredients needed for a rousing finale were there.

Alas, this turned out to be West's most underwhelming novel by far.

Here's the blurb:

The eighth and final book in the epic fantasy House War series closes this chapter in a beloved world of magic and political intrigue, where new threats are stirring.

When the Sleepers wake.

Once, that phrase meant: never. The Sleepers were a myth, part of a story told to children. But in truth, the Sleepers, ancient princes in the court of the Winter Queen, were imprisoned in slumber by the gods themselves—in the cold, dark ruins of the ancient city that lies buried beneath the capital of the Empire. And that prison is fraying, at last.

They are waking.

The gods no longer walk the world. There is no power that can stand against the princes when they wake—and the city that has been Jewel’s home for her entire life will be destroyed when the Sleepers walk. There is only one person to whom they owe allegiance, only one chance to halt them before they destroy everything in their ancient rage.

But that person is the Winter Queen; she is not, and has never been mortal. Jewel carries the last of the surviving saplings that might usher in a new Summer age—but all of the roads that lead to the court of the Queen are closed.

Jewel ATerafin has faced the Oracle’s test. She has control of the prophetic powers that she once considered a curse and a burden. She will find her way to the Winter Queen, and she will ask—or beg—the Winter Queen to intervene to save her kind, her House, and everything she loves.

But she is mortal, and time has never been her friend. The demons are waiting to bar her way, bringing battle to the hidden ancient paths on which she must travel. To win, she must face the true meaning of the Oracle’s test, and risk sanity and life to make the choice that has always lurked at the heart of the firstborn’s test.

And even then, it might be too late.

Not surprisingly at this point, the worldbuilding remains the most amazing facet of these books. As far as I'm concerned, it's also the only thing that's been holding the House War's story arcs together for quite some time now. It's obvious that there is a depth to Michelle West's universe that rivals those of Tolkien, Erikson, and Bakker, and it's a depth that keeps growing with each new installment. Which is quite a feat, in my opinion. Oracle raised the bar in a way we hadn't seen since Sea of Sorrows and both Firstborn and War unveiled new secrets about the firstborn, the Ariani, the Sleepers, the gods and goddesses, the cats, Meralonne, the Oracle, the Winter Court, the Sen, the Cities of Man, etc. All of which added yet more layers to what is already one of the most convoluted fantasy series of all time. Problem is, worldbuilding is only the backdrop of the tale. No matter how detailed and complex that aspect turns out to be, it's all a matter of execution on the part of the author that will allow it to shine or not. And in War, sadly, West fails on basically every level to make the most important scenes/sequences come together the way they deserved. Some of them have been building up since the early volumes of The Sun Sword. And yet, for some unfathomable reasons, their resolution/conclusion almost occur in the background, while the perspectives are focused on low key and unimportant characters as the promised Apocalypse is taking place.

Once again, the characterization is severely lacking. To be honest, with a few rare exceptions, it was terrible. As mentioned, as captivating as some worldbuilding elements are, the poor characterization that leads to bad execution often undermines what should have been key and emotionally charged moments in this grand saga. I mean, it's the end of the world. The Sleepers have awakened. They're laying waste to the capital. Do we have to read about Teller trying to rescue his cat before the mansion is destroyed? Do we have have to read page after page about innocent refugees seeking shelter? Do we need to read so many pages focusing on the evacuation of House Terafin and its staff and servants? As stated in my past reviews, I believe that your mileage may vary depending on how much you are invested in Jewel and her den. What continues to hurt the characterization aspect to such a degree, perhaps because both Firstborn and War were supposed to be one work, is the fact that every single den member suffers from bouts of nostalgia throughout the book. They all reminisce about Duster and the others, for some reason, and these inner monologues go on for page after page after page, killing the momentum of every scene in which they are involved. Over the course of more than 600 pages, they continue to regurgitate their feelings about Duster's sacrifice and the death of the others, which are things we've known since the Sun Sword series. Why Michelle West felt it was important to go through all this again as we approach the end of the House War sequence, after doing it throughout Firstborn and, if we're honest, big chunks of every other Essalieyan book, I'll never know. Holy Hell, it's the Apocalypse and the Sleepers just might destroy everything that everyone holds dear, and we're still talking about Duster? Why? This is the grand finale, when the proverbial shit has hit the fan, and we're still going on about the den's past over and over again. We've known about these things since early on, so why go through it all again ad nauseam? War makes Brandon Sanderson's tackling Robert Jordan's Last Battle feel concise. Okay, maybe not, but you get my drift. Why did Michelle West elect to focus on the den and the "little people" of the realm when all hell breaks loose, I can't begin to understand. I know she wanted the den to come full circle, but to say that it was overdone would be the understatement of the decade. Such focus removed most of the gravitas from scenes that have been foreshadowed for years and years, scenes such as the resolution of the Winter Queen's plotline, and prevented such important moments from helping close this series with an exclamation point.

The pace is better this time around. Given that it's the endgame, it had to be. And yet, at times it feels as though the rhythm is atrocious because you're reading yet another boring chapter about Teller and Finch organizing the House's evacuation instead of reading about the Sleepers and what is more important in the greater scheme of things. For every interesting and exciting sequences, and there are more than a few, West then drags you through yet more tedious and repetitive House business or one of the den's interminable inner monologues.

In my last review, I was wonderering why so much focus was put on seemingly irrelevant scenes and plotlines when the end of it all was so near. The same can be said of War and that totally killed the novel for me. This book just might be the most lackluster fantasy finale I've ever read. How something with so much promise could end up in such an uninspired fashion, I'll never know. War turned out to be so underwhelming, I'm not even going to read the first 3 volumes for a long time. I simply can't deal with more Jewel and her den for now. The Sacred Hunt will be next. Which is sad, for The Sun Sword was so great. The House War, though it has its brilliant moments, is a pale shadow of its predecessor.

The final verdict: 6/10

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

4 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

I do feel sad reading your review but sadly I am not surprised. Personally the Hunter Duopoly and the Sun Sword series are two of my favourites and while I skipped the rehash of the Hunter Duopoly (House War 1-3) I was disappointed by Skirmish and hadn't read anymore. I had hoped your reviews would convince me to try them again but it looks like I jumped off at the right point. I appreciate you taking the time to read up to book 8.

Patrick said...

It's really sad because there is so much cool stuff in these books. But the focus on the den and the repetitive aspects of the narrative mean that you must sift through so much crap to get to these. I now understand why West lost readers with each new installment after SKIRMISH.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat. Is the Sun Sword series worth the read even with the follow up series being such a disappointment? Does it stand on its own? I appreciate your response - you’ve never steered me wrong these past 15 years. Just read Shogun based on your recommendation from years ago and it was one of the best reading experiences of my life. Thanks!

Patrick said...

The Sun Sword is definitely worth the read! =)