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The Uncrowned King
Michelle West
DAW Books, 687 pages

Art: Jody Lee
The Uncrowned King
Michelle West

Michelle West, better known to her friends as Michelle Sagara, was born in 1963, lives with her husband and two children in Toronto, works at Bakka, Canada's oldest SF and fantasy book store (along with her brother, Gary), and writes wonderful books. She has been published as Michelle Sagara, Michelle West and, occasionally, Michelle Sagara West. Twice a Campbell Award nominee (1991 and 1992), she writes a periodic book review column, Guilty Pleasures, for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Michelle West (SFF.NET)
Michelle West (U of T)
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Broken Crown
Rodger's review of Hunter's Death
Michelle West Reading List

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alexander von Thorn

The second book of The Sun Sword is a gripping story about Valedan, the hostage prince of Annagar. Valedan, son of the late Tyr'agar of Annagar by a slave, enters the King's Challenge, the annual tournament in the empire of Essalieyan. He seeks to use the Challenge, a kind of martial decathlon, to prove himself to a people he has never known.

But Valedan faces more than the rigors of the Challenge. The greatest hero of Annagar, Ser Anton di Guivera, has vowed revenge against the house of Leonne, blaming the late Tyr'agar for the death of his wife and son. Ser Anton, now an old man, brings a cadre of students to the Challenge to show their superiority over the pampered, northern-raised prince. At the same time, a group of demonic kialli is also out for revenge for the di Leonne's role in resisting their attempt to take over the southern kingdom a generation ago. In the midst of this, a conflict of succession erupts within the house of Terafin, one of the leading houses of the northern empire, distracting some of the possible allies of the Leonne princeling. Valedan is beset by intrigue, competition, supernatural threats, and trained assassins, all of which reveal unexpected enemies and allies.

This work shows West to be a master of character and setting. The city of Averlaan is no sketch or generic medieval background; the author describes it with vivid color and with economy of language. The characters leap to life quickly, in only a few lines of dialogue. It's a trifle confusing, if only because there are so many unique characters interacting, each with their own personality and objectives. A major plot thread, the outcome of the House war, is left to the next volume, but the resolution of the Challenge and the fate of Valedan comes to a head in these pages.

Having said that, one finds a few points to critique in this story. It's all dreadfully serious; I can't recall a single instance of humour throughout the novel. That could appeal to some readers, who may appreciate the mood of crisis and angst. The character motivations are entirely too local: they move by personal motives, personal loyalties, personal revenge. There is very little sense of moral or ideological abstraction in the motives of any character; this makes the plot more simple than the setting might otherwise create. The viewpoint is close, yet diverse; the lack of antecedents makes it difficult to keep track of who's speaking. On the other hand, showing demonkind as primary characters with their own viewpoints, goals, weaknesses, and society is a unique tack to take. Even though she has room to continue growing, this author already has an impressive arsenal of literary weapons.

The Uncrowned King is a fine example of epic fantasy, showing the development of intense characters in a setting rich in conflict and intrigue. Michelle West is becoming an important contributor to the fantasy genre. Fans will look forward to her upcoming works, both in The Sun Sword series and other settings.

Copyright © 1998 by Alexander von Thorn

Alexander von Thorn works two jobs, at The Worldhouse (Toronto's oldest game store) and in the network control centre of UUNET Canada. In his spare time, he is active in several fan and community organizations, including the 'Toronto in 2003' Worldcon bid. He is also a game designer, novelist-in-training (with the Ink*Specs, the Downsview speculative fiction writing circle), feeder of one dog and two cats, and avid watcher of bad television. He rarely sleeps.

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