books

Michelle Sagara West

Books

Hunter's Oath (1995)

Cast Series: Cast in Shadow (2005), Cast in Courtlight (2006), Cast In Secret (2007), Cast in Fury (2008), Cast in Silence (2009), Cast in Chaos (2010)

Anthologies: Earth, Air, Fire, Water (1999), Assassin Fantastic (2001), Faerie Tales (2004), Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City (2004), Maiden, Matron, Crone (2005), In the Shadow of Evil (2005), Children of Magic (2006), The Best Paranormal Crime Stories Ever Told (2010), Happily Ever After (2011)

 

 

Hunter's Oath (1995)

Hunter's OathI had a strange time reading this story. I liked the characters, I enjoyed the story, I loved the writing, I wanted to know what happened. But I wanted to finish it so I could read something else. I just wasn't in the mood for this story.

Gilliam and Stephen are Hunter Lord and Huntbrother. They, like Gilliam's father and the other Hunter Lords, have dedicated their lives to their land, Breodanir, and every year at least one of the Lords will sacrifice themselves so that their land may thrive.

Because Hunter Lords are uniquely bonded to their Hounds, they are also bonded to a Huntbrother, another boy their age, who helps to tie them to the real world, and allows them to function when they would live only with their dogs.

The story begins and Gilliam and Stephen are young boys, Gilliam is about to turn eight, and his father has to find his huntbrother for him. The first third of the story tells of Gilliam and Stephen as they grow up and reach their coming of age.

Of the characters, I really liked Stephen and Lady Elseth. Lady Elseth may be only a secondary character, but I found her very interesting. And perhaps that's what the problem was--that I wanted to read more about female characters than about young/teenage boys.

Additionally, not in the book's favor is the fact that it is book one in a two book series. And it has one of those endings I hate, where the characters have just gotten themselves out of a terrible, perilous, scrape, unfortunately, nothing is resolved. And the sequel is called Hunter's Death. And that just doesn't bode well for the characters, does it?

I found the cover puzzling. When I think of hunting dogs, I think of hounds. Big, short coated, floppy ear dogs. Now I am perfectly willing to admit that I may certainly be wrong as to what a hunting dog looks like, but the long coated dogs on the cover just struck me as odd. I mean, wouldn't the long coat just get matted and filthy in the woods? This is extra strange, because I usually love Jody A. Lee's covers.

So it was a good story with strong characters and writing. It just wasn't what I wanted to read.

ADDENDUM the First:

I admit it. I went and read the ending of the second book, so I could find out what happened, so I could go on and read something else. This pretty much violates all my personal rules for reading, but I really did want to go on and read something else.
Rating: 5/10

 

Cast

 

Cast in Shadow (2005)

I picked up this book for several reasons. First, because I’ve been impressed with the Luna books I’ve read. Second, because I have read several short stories written by Michelle Sagara West, and very much liked them. I put off reading this book because of the cover. Not that I dislike the cover, only that from the cover it seemed like an urban fantasy, which I’m less frequently in the mood for.

This book isn't urban fantasy. It's set in another world, not our own, with magic substituting for technology, but with lots of swords and daggers. And I really like the world she created.

Kaylin fled the fiefs as a child, hard on the heels of a series of murders. She joined the Hawks and has worked to solve crime and keep the peace since she became old enough to do so. However, the murders have started again, and Kaylin is being sent back to the place she swore never to return.

There are different races, the closest comparison I can think of is Steven Brust's Draggera, however there are significant differences. This is a very different world from Draggera, but I enjoyed it just as much. And I found the different races fascinating, including the idea that mortal and immortal races could live with any degree of harmony and without any one group dominating the rest. Must be a fascinating history that got the to that place.

I really liked this book, for a variety of reasons. Strong characters, good writing, and a story that sucked me in almost immediately. We learned about the world as the story went, as well as about Kaylin's past, and both are fascinating. Although there is quite obviously a sequel, the story is sufficiently wrapped up by the end of the book, which is always important.

And despite the fact that it gave me the wrong impression, I really like the cover. It gives you the essence of Kaylin, and hints at the world where she lives. Whoever is in charge of covers at Luna is really doing a fantastic job.

This is an excellent book, that I very much enjoyed. Although it's printed by Luna, it's not what I would consider a romance, although there are romantic themes, and there's enough sword bashing that I believe most guys will enjoy it as well.

If you like good fantasy--especially fantasy with strong female characters (my favorite)--you'll enjoy Cast in Shadows
Rating: 9/10

Cast in Courtlight (2006)

The sequel to Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight continues the story of Kaylin Neya, Ground Hawk of the Halls of Law, marked by unknown magics, and still lacking control of her magics or her temper.

This is a fine sequel to Cast in Shadow, and although there remain many loose ends, the story arc of this book is a complete one--always an important fact to consider. The story opens with Kaylin being forced into magic lessons, as her magic remains uncontrolled and wild. She hates learning magic and feels that if she becomes a mage that she will no longer remain a Hawk. Then she is thrown unwillingly and unwittingly into the Court politics of the Barrani.

As with the previous book, the story moves quickly, and I found Kaylin a sympathetic character. Although she has weaknesses (her temper, her stubbornness, and her inability to arrive at work on time for starters) she still tries to do what is right, and follow the path that she believes to be good.

The problem I had with this book is that at times I found it confusing. The story jumps about, and I sometimes had to go back and reread to understand what was happening--and even then there were some bits that still confused me. However, this was not by any means a fatal flaw in the story--I still very much enjoyed the story as well as the characters; I found myself sucked into the story, unwilling to put the book down, and unable to stop thinking about where the story was going when I did put the book down.

This may be due to the fact that I've read a lot of other books since I read Cast in Shadow, and so don't remember all the details of the previous story--details that might have made things a little more clear. So I think that although you can read this book without having read Cast in Shadow, I think it will be easier going if you have read the first book.

The other thing I didn't care for as much were the bits of the ending that were little more than teasers for another book. As I've said before, if I'm going to read another book by an author, I want to read that book on the the merits of past stories and the author's writing, not because of loose ends that need wrapped up.

And as much as I tend to like Luna covers, there's something about this cover that bothers me. Part of it is that the woman on the cover of the first book has dark brown hair--almost black--while this woman has light brown hair--almost brown. The other part is that the dress she is putting on is sleevless, while Kaylin repeatedly talks about how she always goes with her arms covered. Consider this description of a dress she puts on.

It was long, yes, and fine, and its sleeves ran the full length of her arms--or she wouldn't have worn it.

It just bothers me when covers get important things wrong. I realize this has no bearing on the book itself, and that the author has little or no control over the cover, but I mention it because it bothers me, and because I hate bad covers.

And I have to say that I'm still not sure about the classification of this series. One of the blurbs on the cover refers to it as a "police procedural" but I'd classify it far more as action/fantasy.

If you've already read Cast in Shadow, then you'll want to read Cast in Courtlight. If you haven't, but like fantasy with strong female characters, then pick up Cast in Shadow, and then read Cast in Courtlight.

Rating: 7/10

Cast In Secret (2007)

Cast In Secret is the sequel to Cast in Courtlight, and takes off not long after the events of that book. Kaylin is still learning magic–and still not succeeding very well in her attempts. She terms with the fact that Severn is both her partner, and the keeper of the bracer that keeps her magical abilities in check. She is also still spending time using her power to help the midwives guild, and with the Foundlings, although the pace and timing of the story are so fast we she hardly spends any time there.

She is also, following the events of Cast in Courtlight still trying to make up to Quartermaster after the damage to her issued gear.

As with the previous books in this series, I really enjoyed reading about Kaylin. She’s a complex person and although you can understand why she acts and reacts the way she does, you can also understand why people find her annoying.

There are also many mysteries left unexplained, as they have been in previous books. What is the source of Kaylin’s power? How will this power affect her life and life span. But we also start to learn more about what she can do, and some of he history of her powers and markings.

Additionally, as with the previous book, although there remain many unanswered questions, the story arc of this book is resolved, so we are not left hanging. And perhaps we may never learn the answers to some of these questions. Which will be fine.

Although I like the covers of these books, I still think they present a different tone than the actual book. The covers look like they belong on an urban supernatural fantasy, but this series is most definitely not set in our world, and contains beings that are not human–not the typical elves and fairies, but beings that are unique to her world.

About the only negative is that once again there were sections that I found a bit confusing–I lost track of who was where as well as who was saying what. The later was a more common problem. Sometimes I would get to the end of a paragraph and have no idea who was talking–figuring out who said what was not even worth the trouble.

Yet despite these flaws, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story, and as usual had trouble putting the book down to go to sleep.

If you enjoy good fantasy with a strong female lead, then you may want to check out Michelle Sagara’s Cast series. Although you should be able to start reading here in the series, the previous books explain the relationship between Kaylin and Severn (and Kaylin and Lord Nightshade).
Rating: 7/10

Cast in Fury (2008)

Let me get this out of the way: I hate this cover. The scene seems to be a depiction of events from the last book, Kaylin does not once wear a dress–especially a dress that horrific–in this book, and the bracer is so badly photoshopped onto her arm her elbow looks broken. If I were not already reading this series, I’d take one look at this cover, out the book down, and walk away. It’s just that bad.

Luckily, the story found within the cover more than makes up for the travesty found on the front.

Cast in Fury occurs immediately after the end of Cast in Secret (which had an awesome cover I’d like to point out). Kaylin and Severn are assigned to duty at the palace, as Cultural Resources on the Tha’alani, as a playwright attempts to place recent events in perspective and keep the city from rioting against the group that had in actuality saved them. To add insult to injury, while they are at the palace, Marcus, Kaylin’s mentor, is arrested for murder.

And that’s a far better summary than you’ll get from the back of the book, which is certainly not describing the book that I read. In fact, I strongly advise you not to read the back copy, it’s that bad.

But again, the cover content had nothing to do with the quality of the actual book. Kaylin’s story continues to build, as she continues to discover more of her powers. I also am enjoying seeing her grow up–albeit painfully slowly at times. As she continues to prove herself, old animosities are set aside, which is allowing her to grow even more.

I also liked how we are seeing the repercussions of the previous book. Again, this may be part of Kaylin’s growing up, but it’s nice to see events in a series not occur in a vacuum.

If you like fantasy crossed with mystery, then you’ll want to check out Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series. In theory you can start the series here–and she gives plenty of back story to keep you up to date. But I always recommend starting at the beginning if you can, and as one of the things I enjoyed was seeing Kaylin’s growth, I think you’d be rewarded to start at the beginning and work your way here.
Rating: 8/10

Cast in Silence (2009)

Cast in Silence continues the story of Kaylin Neya, Private in the Hawk force, marked by Nightshade, and possessed of magical powers she has yet to learn to control.

The forces that surround and imbue Elantra are slipping into chaos, and both Kaylin’s history and powers make her uniquely suited to investigate what is leading to the chaos. Unfortunately for Kaylin, this history is one she prefers to forget.

One of the things I particularly like about this series is how Kaylin has grown over the course of the series and how actions taken in previous books in the series continue to have consequences. I particularly like how the parts of her education she dismissed as useless previously are either coming in use, or displaying themselves as glaring deficiencies she is coming to recognize.

I’ll be curious to see whether Kaylin continues to realize her somewhat willful deficiencies are causing her greater problems as she continues to come into her powers and rise in the ranks of the Hawks. I think she will, and it will be interesting to watch.

I’m not sure enjoyed is the proper word, but it was enlightening to see parts of Kaylin’s past she’d hidden from herself, as well as how these past relationships affect her current relationships.

SPOILER (rot 13)

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V nyfb yvxrq ubj gur Svsr pnzr vagb gur unaqf (pynjf) vs Gvnznevf, naq jbaqre vs gung vf ubj gur svsrf jrer fhccbfrq gb or eha–ol oraribyrag nhgbpengf jub pnerq jung unccraf gb gubfr jub yvir va gur svsrf, engure guna ol oehgny qvpgngbef yvxr Avtugfunqr.

END SPOILER

If you’ve been reading the Elantra series, you won’t need to be told to pick up this story. If you’re looking for a somewhat dark fantasy without boinking, then you’ll want to start at the beginning of this series.
Rating: 7/10

Cast in Chaos (2010)

I have a complicated relationship with this series. I cannot decide how I feel about the series, but I also can’t seem to stop reading it.

This is the sixth book in Michelle Sagara West’s Cast series. Kaylin is still working with the Hawks and still in a complex position in the Elantran Court–she’s mortal, she has powers no one understands, and her lack of training in both magic and etiquette make her unlikely to survive her presentation to the royal court.

Once again Elantra is threatened and once again Kaylin seems to be at the center of the solution to these problems. Kaylin’s existence may be, while not the cause of these events, a parallel event in and of itself. But still, sometimes it seems a little ridiculous that she is ALWAYS at the center of these events and ALWAYS has the solution.

The other issue I have with these books is that I have a hard time actually envisioning the world she describes. The story is interesting and compelling, but I don’t see or feel the world the way I do with other books.

Oh, and these covers continue to bug me. There is always something subtly wrong with them, and it bothers me in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.

So, I still can’t decide how I feel about this series.
Rating: 6/10

Published by Luna

 

Anthologies

 

Earth, Air, Fire, Water (1999) edited by Margaret Weis

Burning Bright - Tanya Huff
The Fire of a Found Heart - Linda P. Baker
The Forge of Creation - Carrie Channell
How Golf Shaped Scotland - Bruce Holland Rogers
The Giant's Love - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Family Secrets - Robyn McGrew
Dvergertal (Intercourse with a Dwarf) - Nancy Varian Berberick
An Elemental Conversation - Donald J. Bingle
Water Baby - Michelle West
Only As Safe - Mark Garland and Lawrence Schimel  
Out of Hot Water - Jane Lindskold
Strange Creatures - Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Sons of Thunder - Edward Carmien


Assassin Fantastic (2001) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Alexander Potter

I know that Martin Greenberg puts together good anthologies, however there’s something about the “Fantastic” that gets tacked onto the end of each anthology theme title that puts me off for some reason. However, I’ve always been fond of Assassin characters, so I picked up the book.

Death Rites by Tanya Huff
Green Stones by Stephen Leigh
Coin of the Realm by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Svedali Foundlings by Fiona Patton
History and Economics by Anna Oster
Never Say...Uh...Die? by Josepha Sherman
Dying By Inches by Teresa Edgerton
Darkness Comes Together by Mickey Zucker Reichert
Raven's Cut by Lynn Flewelling
Myhr's Adventure in Hell by P.N. Elrod
He by Leyte Jefferson
War of the Roses by Rosemary Edghill
On My Honor by Bernie Arntzen
A Touch of Poison by Jane Lindskold
Echoes by Michelle West

...

Also excellent were Jane Lindskold's "A Touch of Poison" and Michelle West's "Echoes". I particularly liked "A Touch of Poison"

Watching the plump, dark-haired young widow working up to her elbows in break dough, a dusting of flour on her cute, slightly up-turned nose, no one would have guessed that Adalia Backer had sworn to kill a man--a man who trusted her.

Well, maybe I could have done without the cute nose bit, but I really enjoyed this story as well.

All in all it was a good anthology, and I quite enjoyed it. There were lots of original stories, and for the most part even the ones I didn't care for were well-written, making it more a matter of taste than of quality. And I found a couple of new authors to look for as well, which is always a good thing.
Rating: 7/10

Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City (2004) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & John Helfers

Mallificent - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Last Day Of The Rest - Russell Davis
Jack And The B.S. - Tanya Huff
Panhandler - Alan Dean Foster
Trading Fours With The Moldy Figs - Jean Rabe
Signs Are Hazy, Ask Again Later - Fiona Patton
Puss In D.C. - Pamela Sargent
A Faust Films Production - Janeen Webb
Brownie Points - Elizabeth Gilligan
After The Flowering - Janet Berliner
Little Red In The 'Hood - Irene Radford
Exterminary - Patricia Lee Macomber
The Nightingale - Dena Bain Taylor
Meet Mr. Hamlin - Bill Willingham
If You Only Knew My Name - David Niall Wilson
Keeping It Real - Jody Lynn Nye
The Rose Garden - Michelle West

Published by DAW


Faerie Tales (2004) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Russell Davis

Introduction (Faerie Tales) - Russell Davis
Sweet Forget-Me-Not - Charles de Lint
Yellow Tide Foam - Sarah A. Hoyt
The September People - Tim Waggoner
Judgment -  Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Changeling - John Helfers
He Said, Sidhe Said -  Tanya Huff
A Very Special Relativity -  Jim Fiscus
Witches'- Broom, Apple Soon - Jane Lindskold
Wyvern -  Wen Spencer
A Piece of Flesh - Adam Stemple
The Filial Fiddler - Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The Stolen Child - Michelle West

Published by Daw


In the Shadow of Evil (2005) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Rosalind M. Greenberg

To Embrace the Serpent – Tim Waggoner
Few of Us – Jean Rabe
The Angel Chamber – Russell Davis
Ineffable – Isaac Stpindel
Flint and Iron – Rick Hautala
Feel – Julie E. Czerneda
Comes Forth – Jane Lindskold
Climb, Said the Crow – Brooks Peck
Red Star Prophecy – Mickey Zucker Reichert
Rekindling the Light – Jody Lyn Nye
Iraqi Heat – Gregory Benford
Slow Poison – Tanya Huff
The Weapon – Michelle West
The Captain of the Dead – Fionna Patton

Published by Daw


Maiden, Matron, Crone (2005) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Kerrie Hughes

I try to pick up fantasy anthologies when I see them, since chances are they won’t be there the next time I look. I picked up Maiden, Matron, Crone while ago, but saved it to read during the school year, because short story collections are much easier to put down than books.

Some of the stories in this collection were good, some were so-so, and a couple were quite excellent. And there weren't any stories that I absolutely hated, which is always a good thing. The best part of this collection, however, is that if focused on female characters, and for the most part strong female characters.

A Lingering Scent of Bacon - Brenda Cooper
A Choice of Ending - Tanya Huff
Strikes of the Heart - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Misery and Woe - Jean Rabe
In Sight - Charles de Lint
The Gift - Jody Lynn Nye
Bearing Life - Devon Monk
Advice from a Young Witch to an Old Priestess - Rosemary Edghill
The Three Gems of the Fianna - Fiona Patton
The Things She Handed Down - Russell Davis
Seeking Gold - Jane Lindskold
Opening Her Door - Alexander B. Potter
The Unicorn Hunt - Michelle West

...

The concluding tale, "The Unicorn Hunt" by Michelle West was very good. I'm pretty sure that I have one or two Michelle West books around here, and I think I'm going to have to find and read them.
Rating: 6/10

Children of Magic (2006) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Kerrie Hughes

As I have mentioned on many previous occasions, I am a huge fan of short stories. Occasionally I have been disappointed, but for the most part the anthologies I have read have good, especially the one edited by Martin H. Greenberg.

The theme of Children of Magic is (as you would guess from the title) children with magic and the ability to change the world around them. The major problem with this review, however, is that I only read a one or two stories at a time, and then left the book on the headboard for a few weeks while I was reading something else (anthologies are good for that). So it actually took me several months to read Children of Magic as it dropped to the bottom of the pile in favor of whatever I was currently reading during the day (or sometimes something more boring, to put me to sleep.)

Mr. Death Goes to Washington - Alan Dead Foster
Nethan's Magic - Jody Lynn Nye
Touching Faith - Alexander B Potter
The Horses of the High Hills - Brenda Cooper
An End to all Things - Karina Sumner-Smith
After School Specials - Tanya Huff
Titan - Sarah A. Hoyt
Shades of Truth - Jana Paniccia
The Winter of Our Discontent - Nancy Holder
The Rustle of Wings - Ruth Stuart
Basic Magic - Jean Rabe
Fever Waking - Jane Lindskold
Starchild Wondersmith - Louise Marley
Far from the Tree - Melissa Lee Shaw
The Weight of Wishes - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Trade - Fiona Patton
Shahira - Michelle West
Rating: 6/10

Published by DAW

The Best Paranormal Crime Stories Ever Told (2010) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & John Helfers

I wouldn’t say the best necessarily, but it’s not a bad selection of stories. And the fact that I got to read it for free probably helped.

Appetite for Murder - Simon R. Green
Star of David - Patricia Briggs
If Vanity Doesn't Kill Me - Michael Stackpole
Grave-Robbed - P.N. Elrod
The Judgement - Anne Perry
Surprise Special Guest Appearance by... - Carole Nelson Douglas
Occupational Hazard - Mike Resnick
She's Not There - Steve Perry
Hostile Takeover - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Doppelgangster - Laura Resnick
The Necromancer's Apprentice - Lillian Stewart Carl
The Night of their Lives - Max Allen Collins
Road Dogs - Norman Partridge
Ninja Rats on Harleys - Elizabeth A. Vaughan
Stalked - Kelley Armstrong
Corpse Vision - Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Unicron Hunt - Michelle West

There were a couple other stories in the collection, but I didn’t love or hate them, so all in all, this was a pretty strong collection.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Skyhorse Publishing

Happily Ever After (2011) edited by John Klima

Happily Ever AfterNot sure how I missed this when I first came out, but this anthology is full of things I love: authors whose books I love, stories based on folk and fairy tales–lovely!

The only thing I didn’t like, is I wish the anthology hadn’t ended on such a dark and depressing story.

Mind you, the dark and depressing stories were good–very good–but these tales ran very true to the original stories, with a not insignificant amount of rape and incest and general horribleness. Just like the original tales.

But there’s also a good amount of humor as well, and I just wished the collection had ended with one of the funnier stories.

...

The introduction was written by Bill Willingham, whose writing I adore, and whose introduction amused me. Here’s the very start of it:

I have to confess I’m no good at writing a proper introduction, because, I’m in the storytelling business, which means I get to lie for a living, and I’ve become well practiced at it. But introductions are supposed to be true. After so many years, I despair if I have much unvarnished truth in me.

Here were some of my favorite stories:

...

Michelle West‘s “The Rose Garden” was a Beauty and the Beast story, except that it was very much more than that. Bits of the Beast reminded me of Fables‘ Bigby, but that’s a good thing.

He had born a prince, in his kingdom. And he offended a powerful witch. He no longer remembered how; witches were easily offended.

...

Please note, as previously mentioned, the stories have rape and incest and lots and lots of sex in addition to evil stepmothers and other such killers.

There were also a fair number of very dark and very depressing tales that were very good, but that I didn’t enjoy at all.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Night Shade Books

 

 

Michelle Sagara West's website