The Riven Shield by Michelle West. ★★★
Trigger warning: rape
I have returned to Michelle West’s Sun Sword series! This epic fantasy series starts with The Broken Crown and contains plenty of well written female characters. It’s also got what I think of as an older fantasy book style, with fairly dense prose, tons of characters, and battles between good and evil. While I wasn’t thrilled with this installment, I’d still recommend the series. The Riven Shield is book five out of six, so plot spoilers for previous books may follow.
Reading The Riven Shield meant me frantically trying to remember what the heck happened in Sea of Sorrows. Basically, Diora, Jewel, and Jewel’s collection of random characters are all in a city that’s risen from the desert. After spending the last book getting to this city, they now need to get back. Why they had to go to this city in the first place, I’m still not entirely certain. Hopefully it will become relevant in the last book, but my hopes are not high.
While various characters are trying to get Diora and the Sun Sword over to Valedan, Valedan is… talking politics? I’m not sure what he achieved in this book. There is some demon fighting, but since there’s been at least one scene of demon fighting per book, this doesn’t feel particularly significant.
Can I tell you a spoiler? Diora does not in fact get all the way to Valedan. Thankfully she does get out of the desert, but I did not get to see her show up in front of Valedan being like, “Here’s the Sun Sword, hope you don’t die, also you’ve got to marry me because politics.” I seriously can’t wait for that scene. Okay, end spoilers.
Oh, regarding the trigger warning. For whatever reason the beginning of the book is a flashback to Anya Cooper’s backstory, which includes rape. Why this narrative decision was made, I have no idea. In fact, I have no idea why so much time was spent on Anya’s backstory when she wasn’t really in the rest of the book.
Michelle West has written some characters I love, but the ratio of “characters I care about” to “characters I don’t care about” was not favorable here. I don’t really care about Jewel. Or Kallandras. Or Markos (or whatever his name is). And I hate Avandar with a passion. Also, for a series with so many characters to keep track of, the names are awfully similar. See this review for examples.
There were bits of The Riven Shield I liked. There was one especially good scene with Teresa and Diora. Then again, I tend to enjoy any scene with Diora. Otherwise, I ended up skimming parts of this. I get the feeling West never uses one word where she can manage five instead.
The Riven Shield may edge out Sea of Sorrows for my least favorite Sun Sword installment. I just don’t have much patience for eight hundred page fantasy books where hardly anything happens. Let’s hope the next and final book can restore my positive feelings for this series.