The Uncrowned King by Michelle West. ★★★★
The Uncrowned King is the second book in a six book epic fantasy series that starts with The Broken Crown. You need to read this series in order, and there may be some spoilers for the first book in this review. While this series is a hefty time investment (six books, each around seven hundred pages), so far I am finding it worth the time I put in, particularly because of the variety of important female characters.
While The Broken Crown was focused mainly on the events in the Dominion, The Uncrowned King is set almost entirely in the Empire. There’s only one scene that takes place within the Dominion, and Diora does not appear in this novel. Instead, The Uncrowned King focuses on Valedan kai di’Leonne and Jewel aTerafin. Valedan Kai di’Leonne, the heir to the Dominion, joins the King’s Challenge, a prestigious athletic event, as a way to prove himself worthy of the throne. However, competing in the Challenge makes him more accessible to the forces seeking to destroy him, which are represented in the famed former winner Ser Anton di’Guivera. Meanwhile, the Terafin house is embarking on a war of succession despite the fact that their current ruler is still alive. Jewel wishes to stay out of the battle for power, but she can’t prevent herself as being seen as an opponent. This being epic fantasy, there are plenty of other plot threads going on. Particularly noteworthy is Kiriel’s story, which I continue to follow with interest. And of course, there’s the ongoing threat of invasion by the demons and the Lord of Night.
The Empire is a gender egalitarian setting with plenty of female characters. Jewel and Kiriel are the most central, but there’s also distinctive secondary characters like the Kalakar, the Terafin, Serra Alina di’Lamberto, Evayne and Princess Mirialyn. Something I really love about the series is how there is such variety in the female characters. The Kalakar is a battle hardened general known for never leaving a solider behind. Serra Alina follows the Dominion’s notions of propriety for women but has a savvy political mind. Along with Mirialyn, she’s an important mentor to Valedan.
While I am enjoying this series, it can be tough to get into. The writing can best be described as dense – there is so much going on and so many characters that it can be overwhelming and hard to keep track. The pacing was slow in the beginning, although it did speed up after page two hundred. I don’t think it helped that the first fifty pages contained all new characters.
I’m very glad I picked up this series, and I plan to keep going with it. I recommend it to anyone looking for epic fantasy, especially if they want a series with well written female characters.