starlady: meralonne and kallandras in the wood (in a dark wood)
[personal profile] starlady
West, Michelle. House Name. New York: Daw Books, 2011.

Michelle West is and always will be one of my most favorite authors, though I hope she doesn't remain, as she has been up until this point, criminally underknown. That should change! Everyone should read her books! Or at least, you should read her books if you can stand epic fantasy about deeply human, deeply flawed characters (many of the most important ones women!) in a complex, intelligently drawn world struggling to prevent the End of the World!

As someone who's loved West since I was…12, I'm not the most objective evaluator, but that said, I really, really enjoyed this one. Last year I wrote a long post about the West novels (currently at 11 and counting), and I stand by what I said there:

There are the trappings of epic fantasy in here--gods, demons, mages, seers, Bards--but they are never allowed to upstage the characters, and the end result is some very dense writing about fully imagined cultures populated by heartbreakingly human people (even when these people are demons, or gods, or the children of gods, or half-humans). The way West writes politics ought to bring many more well-known authors to tears, let alone cultures and its impacts on the people born into them.

So, with that said again, this book is the third in West's current "set" within the larger world and story, The House War, beginning with The Hidden City and City of Night. I'll admit to some disappointment when I heard that, rather than picking up directly after the events of The Sun Sword, The House War was going back in time to the start of Jewel Markess' story, when she begins constructing a family out of street children like her in one of the poorest holdings in the city of Averalaan. But I've enjoyed going back and getting a deeper look at Jewel's origin story, and that of her den-kin, many of whom were never given a lot of screen time in the previous books. And in House Name, the last of the "prior events" books, that doubling back pays off in spades.

To wit, House Name retells from different perspectives and at differentllevels of detail the events of the second of the West books (second half of The Sacred Hunt), Hunter's Death. Now, I am not unbiased here because I've long thought that HD is my single favorite of the West books, largely because it is so, so very epic, and because its epic events fit into one book, whereas in The Sun Sword they are spread over multiple books. So I really enjoyed the deepening understanding that House Name brought, and for those who haven't read HD--which is most people, since it's OOP--it's a great introduction to the deeper stakes behind the politics of the Empire. I really enjoyed spending time with favorite characters (Devon ATerafin! Isladar) and being introduced to new ones. West is really, really good at mapping out the inside of her characters' heads and hearts; even the ones who are not nice at all and who are villains are fascinating, deeply compelling. And the End of the World imbues the events with a pleasing thrill of the very, very epic.

That said, I should also mention that the books (particularly The Sun Sword sequence, less so The Sacred Hunt and these books, for reasons of setting) aren't free of some problematic tropes. [personal profile] oyceter noted some of them in her reviews of the series. But, with those important caveats, I would still definitely recommend giving the books a try to just about everyone, and I think that this current series is probably as good a place to start as any. Certainly I'd call House Name one of the strongest individual books thus far, and I have high hopes for the next two.
Also, shameless self-promotion: I am one of the admins for [community profile] sagarawest, a comm for fans of all of Michelle's books. Come! Join! Post! Discuss!

Also, by-now traditional ideas about reading order, now ranked in order of preference:

1. The House War (The Hidden City, City of Night, House Name), The Sacred Hunt, The Sun Sword
2. The Sun Sword, The House War, The Sacred Hunt
3. The Sacred Hunt, The House War (first three books), The Sun Sword
4. publication order: The Sacred Hunt, The Sun Sword, The House War

For the record, I read them in a very strange order: The first half of The Sun Sword (through The Shining Court), Hunter's Death, Hunter's Oath, the second half of The Sun Sword, The House War. This was actually…not a bad way to go, I'd say; I was a little confused in The Broken Crown at times, but all in all I'd say it's a decent introduction to the world as a whole, since it introduces Jewel, references the events of Henden in the year 410 AA, and takes place in both the Empire and the Dominion. Only the Breodanir aren't covered, but reading The Sacred Hunt and supplementing it with House Name fills that gap. Publication order is fine, but Hunter's Oath is by far the weakest of the books, so there is that.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-19 19:57 (UTC)
lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] lnhammer
We're a bit schizoid about Michelle's books in this house: Janni follows the Hunt/Sword/House books, while I follow the Elantra books.

(Neither of us have read her first tetrology, though.)


(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-19 21:09 (UTC)
boundbooks: Zhang Ziyi (flower: yellow stars)
From: [personal profile] boundbooks
I love her Michelle West work, but I bounced hard off of the Elantra books. I think that my problem with the books has more to do with my lack of interest in serial novels/detective series than her writing, though.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-20 14:26 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] vito_excalibur
The problem for me is that I am so very, very tired of End of the World narratives, especially if they have anything to do with a final showdown between Good and Evil. As Roger Ebert says, at this point it feels like the final intramural game in a sport I do not follow. Would you still recommend these books under that circumstance?


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