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The Riven Shield    by Michelle West order for
Riven Shield
by Michelle West
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In her Sun Sword series, Michelle West has built a fantasy world as innovative, complex and involving as Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (and I don't make that comparison lightly). Its remarkable characters (both human and demon) exist in well conceived societies, with underlying codes of conduct that are often in conflict. The Riven Shield is the fifth episode of the series. Apparently it was intended to be the last, but the author indicates that there will be one more.

Don't try to take this one in, without reading the previous books - as in Wheel of Time, there are just too many sub-plots and characters to track, and this episode is especially complex (and at times unwieldy), as it attempts to move a myriad of quests to the conclusions that await in the final volume. Indeed, I wished there had been a summary of past events at the beginning, as it's been a while since I read Sea of Sorrows.

Continuing from that story, Serra Diora (secretly carrying the Sun Sword) is about to leave the safety of Arkosa and the company of her truculent friend Matriarch Margret. In the North, in Jewel A'Terafin's absence, her den members are placed in positions of power and pulled into House politics. Two powerful Southern lords (Lambertan and Callestan), at odds over the deaths of sons, reach acceptance and forgiveness, though with great difficulty. In the process, we see how cultural misunderstanding can be tragic and lead to evil consequences.

Ser Alesso's alliance with the Shining Court begins to surface, as its sleeper demons are forced to fight and to die. We see more of the Radann and of Marekas par el'Sol. There are ongoing ripples of the Court's internal politics, including an early flashback to show what Ishavriel did to make the powerful mage Anya mad. And questions are raised about Kiriel's future role in events. It takes a while to develop all of this, but it builds to thrilling battles in a Southern village and a harem.

Blood loyalties are in conflict with fealty and duty, and a variety of old powers are allied with humans on both sides of the conflict. The author deals with the consequences of an end justifies the means approach (to the Matriarch Yollana amongst others), and also with the cost of Jewel's refusal to follow that path. There are several unusual romances and outstanding protagonists, amongst whom the women shine brightest.

I very much look forward to the conclusion of this epic, The Sun Sword in January 2004 - to the meeting between Serra Diora and Valedan kai di'Leone, and the final battles in the Southern civil war, involving both humans and demons.

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