The Michelle West novels: Suggested reading order

With the publication of the final two novels in Michelle West’s House War series this year (Firstborn and War), respectively, I’ve embarked once again on my quest to talk these books up to other people. In particular, if you like West’s Chronicles of Elantra series, written under her other penname Michelle Sagara, I think you’ll like the West aka Essalieyan novels too. For more on why I think these books are great, and why the conclusion to the House War in particular has been very satisfying, you can read my review of the previous entry in the series, Oracle, at Strange Horizons.

It’s the perfect time to start reading these books, as West has already sold the first four books in the final series in the universe (currently titled The Burning Crown), but the absolute earliest we could expect to see the first one would be 2021. Plus, there are currently 16 books in the series, so that’s a lot to catch up on.

That quantity, and the fact that the series began twenty-five years ago, also leads to the question of where someone who does want to read these books should start. (Note: all links go to West’s website, where she has assembled buying links for each book so I don’t have to.)

Where to start?

There are, roughly, three main storylines in the Essalieyan universe, which is converging towards the end of the world over the course of the story: that of Essalieyan and its capital city Averalaan, where most of the action takes place; the Western nation of Breodanir, which follows a different god and has different customs, ruled by the Hunters and their Huntbrothers; and in the South, the Dominion of Annagar, which views the Northern gods with suspicion. Jewel Markess ATerafin is the main protagonist of the Essalieyan storyline, and of the House War sequence. Breodanir is the subject of The Sacred Hunt, and the Dominion plays a starring role in The Sun Sword.

The difficulty comes in with the fact that the first three books of The House War precede or take place concurrently with all of the other books. So the following reading order is constructed with an eye towards minimizing spoilers and readerly whiplash due to jumping back and forth between books published in the mid-1990s and the end of the 2010s. West’s style has evolved markedly over the course of the series, becoming a more effective version of itself, and the difference is particularly noticeable between the first two books and all the others. All are published by DAW.

Read More »

The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

I got to review Ann Leckie’s fifth novel for Strange Horizons recently and I was extremely happy about it. I love Leckie, and this book was an interesting twist on her established themes. It’s also Hamlet as retold by a rock, but the rock is the actual protagonist of the story, and it was great. I’ve seen some people perhaps not quite grasp that; I’ve also seen people say they couldn’t get into the book. I can see how that could be the case, but I was immediately gripped by the question of how the two halves of the story fit together. It’s great, and if you were put off the Radch books for whatever reason, this is a great, very different book to read.

A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland

My review of A Conspiracy of Truths went up at Strange Horizons a few months back. I’m a fan of the author’s podcast (although, as with most things in life, I’m woefully behind on it), and I picked up this novel out of a desire to support her. I wound up really enjoying this “fantasy of fake news” quite a lot, even if its take on a “fantasy of fake news” isn’t quite what I expected from the elevator pitch.

You will note that the review doesn’t engage at all with the hopepunk discourse, which blew up while I was writing it. This was a deliberate choice on the part of me and my editor at Strange Horizons. Since nobody is paying me to write here, and since my morning coffee hasn’t fully metabolized yet, I will just say that I find the concept of hopepunk desperately undertheorized, which is a fancy way of saying “not framed with anywhere near enough conceptual rigor.” I will also say that I’m with AOC (always)–I think hope is something you have to do and be rather than waiting for it to come to you externally.