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.
Start here – The House War, Part One
- The Hidden City (2008)
- City of Night (2009)
- House Name (2011)
The first three books of The House War introduce Jewel, her den, the Empire, and the central conflict of the whole story: the fight against Allasakar, the Lord of the Hells, who wants to return to the mortal plane and, well, devour all souls forever.
Skip back – The Sacred Hunt
- Hunter’s Oath (1995)
- Hunter’s Death (1996)
Here is the first crux in the question of reading order: The Sacred Hunt, specifically Hunter’s Death, spoils House Name and vice versa. Why am I suggesting you read the books published later first? West herself recommends staring with The Hidden City, and having read the books partly out of order myself, I think The Sacred Hunt is taken better when you’re already grounded in the larger story. The bind-up edition is now the more common, so I don’t recommend taking them separately.
Move forward – The Sun Sword
- The Broken Crown (1997)
- The Uncrowned King (1998)
- The Shining Court (1999)
- Sea of Sorrows (2001)
- The Riven Shield (2003)
- The Sun Sword (2004)
This is the series that I started with, in 1997; certain references in The Sun Sword made a lot more sense once I’d tracked down Hunter’s Death and then Hunter’s Oath. Jewel is a secondary protagonist in these books, which detail the attempt by demons to suborn the Empire’s perennial foe, the Dominion of Annagar.
Catch up – The House War, Part Two
- Skirmish (2012)
- Battle (2013)
- Oracle (2015)
- Firstborn (2019)
- War (2019)
The concluding half of The House War picks up literally minutes after the final scene with Jewel in The Sun Sword; the advantage of having read the previous nine books is that you’ll be able to skip the “story so far” catch-up which is available on the author’s website. There are references to The Sun Sword in the last five books, particularly in War, so this is definitely the reading order for the most spoiler-phobic. Even if you don’t care about spoilers, you’ll get the most out of the events in these five books, which tie into absolutely everything that has gone before in a very satisfying and remarkable way, if you’ve already read the rest of the books in the series.
Then you can join the rest of us waiting for The Burning Crown with bated breath.